It's Time to Protect Children Against Gun Violence

Marian Edelman Wright | 1/2/2013, 11:58 a.m.

Over the past few days we've all learned a bit more about 20 beautiful 6- and 7-year-olds who each seem as if they could have been any of our children or grandchildren. Jessica asked Santa for new cowgirl boots for Christmas. Daniel's family said he "earned" all the ripped knees on his jeans. James liked to remind people that he was six and three-quarters. Grace loved playing dress-up and with her dog Puddin.'

As the stories kept coming about the children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School and their families began saying goodbye, many of us have spent much of the last week in tears. But many parents, especially those with their own young children, have instead gone through each day desperately willing themselves not to cry, trying to do what little they could to protect their children from the overwhelming adult sadness all around them. After all, for most parents protecting their children is a primal and primary instinct.

This is just one reason this tragedy, which happened in school--a place where tens of millions of parents send their children every single day and need to trust they will be safe, has instilled so much horror and despair.

When two serial snipers terrorized the Washington, D.C. area 10 years ago, using a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle very similar to the one used in the Newtown shootings, one of the most horrifying moments came after the shooters targeted a child on his way to school, later asserting in a note: "Your children are not safe anywhere at any time."

After this latest tragedy, America's mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, and all those with a mothering spirit must finally stand up and fight that truth and make our politicians act to fight that truth doing whatever it takes for as long as it takes. We must seize the moment and say "no more."

Right now the pervasive culture of violence in America only reinforces the sense of threat both children and adults feel. This year's "Black Friday" shopping set a record for gun sales: the FBI reported 154,873 requests for background checks from shoppers wanting to buy guns on the day after Thanksgiving alone. Those numbers are not about what many people think of as the "criminal" gun culture involving guns bought and sold on the streets. These are the guns being sold to the millions of Americans who are willing and able to go through background checks and follow all existing laws and proper legal channels so that they can either buy guns for their own pleasure or their own theoretical protection.

It appears the Newtown shooter's mother fell into this very large category of Americans. There were 16.8 million background checks in 2012, nearly double the number 10 years ago. What is it about American culture that encourages tens of millions of Americans to either use guns as a form of entertainment or feel so fearful they believe they need guns in their homes, including semiautomatic weapons and high capacity ammunition clips designed specifically to kill large numbers of other people, to feel a sense of safety?