Under the radar epidemic: Young children caught in the crossfire of gun violence

Opinion

Left: Londyn Samuels, 1 Right: Antiq Brown,1 (NBC News, NBC New York)

Left: Londyn Samuels, 1 Right: Antiq Brown,1 (NBC News, NBC New York)

Does anyone care that infants and toddlers are being gunned down in the street?  What does the deafening silence say about us as a community, a society and a nation?

Two recent unspeakable tragedies over the Labor Day weekend underscore the crisis.  In New Orleans, a 1-year-old girl named Londyn Samuels was shot to death as her nanny carried her home from the park.  The little girl was just learning to walk.  The bullet was fired into the nanny’s back, and she is expected to survive.

And in Brooklyn, New York, another 1-year-old—a boy named Antiq Hennis—was fatally shot in the head while sitting in his stroller.  Police suspect the shooting was gang related.  Meanwhile, the boy’s father, who has a criminal record, has failed to cooperate with police.

These killings are part of a silent epidemic that is taking the lives of young children, including black children.  Unlike the mass shootings of children at Newtown, Columbine and elsewhere, the killing of individual children such as Londyn and Antiq fail to capture national attention.  These shootings, horrific and heart-wrenching as they are, appear to have a low impact on the nation’s conscience.

According to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, children in America are heavily impacted by gun violence.  Rural and urban children are equally affected, with rural children dying more frequently from suicides and gun accidents, and urban children more often succumbing to gun homicide.

Firearm homicide is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., after motor vehicle accidents, with an average of eight children and teens killed each day.  Further, American children are killed by guns 11 times more than their counterparts in other wealthy nations.  And in 2007, more pre-school children were killed by guns than police officers were killed in the line of duty.

But it gets worse.   According to a report from the Children’s Defense Fund called Protect Children Not Guns 2013, 166,500 children and teens in America died from guns between 1963 and 2010 than U.S. soldiers died in foreign wars.  And in 2010, more American children suffered gun injuries than all of the U.S.  soldiers wounded in Afghanistan that year.  Shockingly, 93 percent of children under 15 killed by firearms in 26 industrialized nations live in the U.S.  With roughly a gun for every person and as many as a half of the world’s civilian firearms, America is a war zone.

Meanwhile, gun violence disproportionately affects black children, which could explain why these gun-related deaths–examples of so-called “black on black” crime as opposed to racially-motivated killings–receive little or no attention when they occur.  And years of conditioning have made society callous to the lives of black people, with black children regarded as throwaways and criminals in waiting–devalued and discounted, dehumanized and dismissed.

The CDF report found that black, Latino and Native American children and teens are disproportionately more likely to die or suffer injuries from firearms.

Gun homicide is the leading cause of death among black children, with that demographic twice as likely to die from gunfire as a car accident.  Moreover, while black children were only 15 percent of all children in the U.S. in 2010, they accounted for 45 percent of gun deaths and 46 percent of gun injuries.  Further, black children and teens that year were 4.7 times more likely to die from guns than whites, 8.5 times more likely to be injured and 17 times more likely to die from gun homicide than their white peers.

And as for the U.S., where some would make it easier to buy a gun than to vote or receive a proper public school education, weapons seem to have more rights than our children.  Surely a gun lobbyist somewhere will call for more guns as the solution to the carnage, because after all, won’t we save lives by arming our infants and settling the score?  And certainly others will call for more prisons, in the nation already boasting the world’s largest prison population and attempting to incarcerate itself out of its problems.

Gun violence is a public health disaster, taking its toll on families, disproportionately on black families.  The CDF report notes that between 1963 and 2010, 59,265 Black children and teens were killed by guns.  That’s over 17 times the recorded lynchings of African-Americans from 1882 to 1968!  And yet, society normalizes this violence, even as it traumatizes its victims and begets more violence.  Those of us who have young children cannot imagine losing them in this manner, and yet it happens every day–and the country accepts it.

In the land where guns thrive and children perish by guns, we have no choice but to do much better than this nonsense.

Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove