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Children gun deaths should top our agenda

It’s Christmastime and everyone would rather focus on the magic of the season. Unpleasant as it might be, we can’t allow ourselves to ignore grieving families who won’t be able to overlook an empty chair at the holiday season dinner table.

The only thing worse than those desperately praying to overcome the unfathomable loss of a child is the fear that the U.S. has become a nation numb to this spiraling tragedy. Perhaps this season is the most appropriate time to reflect and reorder priorities.

Aren’t you fed up, yet?

As a Post-Tribune reporter in the 1980s, I remember an interview with a Chicago funeral home director who told me that back in the day, he may have had only two or three orders for infant/children caskets a year.

It broke his heart to note that just a decade or so later, he was getting that many orders every month. While unashamedly a capitalist, he confessed that’s business he’d rather do without. Things have gotten much worse since then.

German Lopez of the New York Times wrote:

“LaVonte’e Williams couldn’t read yet, but he loved the Bible. His grandfather even called him “preacher.” In August, a day after his baptism, he accidentally shot himself at a park and died at just 5 years old.

“Juan Carlos Robles-Corona, Jr., had mastered viral TikTok dances. He would perform them at an Auntie Anne’s, where he and his mother worked. In April, he was shot to death near his school in an unsolved killing. He was 15 years old.

“Angellyh Yambo prided herself on befriending people considered “annoying or strange.” She drew elaborate sketches on her iPad and liked watching horror movies. In April, a few months after her Sweet 16 birthday, she was killed by a stray bullet while walking outside after school.

“LaVonte’e, Juan Carlos and Angellyh were just three of the thousands of children killed or injured by gun violence this year in the U.S. The New York Times Magazine devoted its upcoming issue, published online today, to their stories and those of nine others for its annual “The Lives They Lived” feature.

“Many Americans are so accustomed to the daily toll of gun violence that they may not realize how much of an outlier the U.S. is for anything related to firearms. Outside of mass shootings, like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that happened 10 years ago, killings of children rarely get much attention. So, I want to explain how different the U.S. is when it comes to gun deaths among teenagers and younger children.

“Guns are now the No. 1 cause of death among American children and teens, ahead of car crashes, other injuries and congenital disease.

“In other rich countries, gun deaths are not even among the top four causes of death, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found. The U.S. accounts for 97 percent of gun-related child deaths among similarly large and wealthy countries, despite making up just 46 percent of this group’s overall population.”

The Times reported that firearm deaths per million among one through 19 years old Americans this year was 56.2. In Canada, 6.2; France 3.1; Australia 1.6, and the rest of the entire world one or fewer.

The New York Times revealed that if the U.S. had gun death rates similar to Canada’s, about 26,000 fewer children would have died since 2010, according to Kaiser. But the trend has been going in the opposite direction: Gun deaths among teens and younger kids have gone up in the U.S., while they have declined elsewhere. The victims are disproportionately people of color, most often Black boys.

Gun deaths among children is a tragedy all by itself. The fact that the victims are more often than not going to be Black or brown boys should make you concerned if nothing else does. How many generations will we stand by and allow to be deprived of their potential?

So, we always try to get away from the conversation with the “what can anyone do about it?” card. And because I don’t have the definitive solution is not an excuse for you to dismiss your personal responsibility.

America is a nation of solving problems when it places its collective mind on a particular crisis and moves forward with resolve. Why should gun violence, particularly among our most vulnerable populations, be any different? You and your family, neighborhood, profession, alma mater, church, organization, corporation, fraternity or sorority, or social circle should become rededicated to doing whatever it takes to save children’s lives—by whatever means necessary. It’s got to start with you.

Vernon A. Williams
Vernon A. Williams

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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