This Fourth of July weekend, when most families in America were firing up the grill and getting ready to take in the annual fireworks show, one family in Chicago grieved for the loss of their child. Over the long holiday weekend, shootings ripped across Chicago, killing seven people and wounding dozens more. The youngest victim was 7-year-old Amari Brown, who was accidentally shot when someone apparently targeted his family member. Whether it's gang violence on the streets of Chicago or an unlocked gun in the family den in suburban Minnesota, each time a child is killed by gunfire, it's baffling that the issue of gun control is an issue at all.
Between Friday morning and Sunday afternoon, seven people were fatally shot while another 40 were wounded; Chicago police recovered one illegal gun per hour across the city, according to Superintendent Garry McCarthy. According to McCarthy, 7-year-old Brown was shot just before midnight in the Humboldt Park neighborhood when shooters fired at his father, Antonio Brown, who law enforcement described as a "ranking gang member." Brown was hit in the chest and later died at Stroger Hospital.
Brown's grandmother, Vedia Hailey, told the Chicago Tribune:
It's crazy. Who would shoot a 7-year-old in the chest? Who would do that to a baby? When is it going to stop?
Hailey's exasperation can be felt far beyond the streets of Chicago. It's the same question every devastated parent asks when they have to bury their child because of gun violence. And it's the same question that gun advocates avoid year after year at the NRA's annual conference where they gather to celebrate another year of successfully lobbying against gun control.
In September 2013, The New York Times published a monumentally disturbing report on children and gun deaths. The article emphasized that these incidents transcend racial, social, economic, and geographic circumstances — they happen anywhere and everywhere in this country. In fact, they're so prevalent that, according to the paper, the number of child firearm deaths in the U.S. is about twice as many as listed in official records. According to statistics compiled by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 800 children under the age of 14 were killed in firearm accidents between 1999 and 2010.
These cases cited in the report often involve young children finding their family's gun and accidentally shooting themselves or siblings accidentally shooting each other, with the youngest victim being William Reddick, a 9-month-old infant who was shot by his 2-year-old brother in 1999. Stories like that reflect the absolute worst deficiencies and flaws of our society, which perpetuates conditions that make American children nine times more likely to die in a gun accident than children in any other developed country.
Why is this the status quo? Well, it arguably all comes down to three letters and one untouchable organization: the NRA. As the well-funded, all-powerful mouthpiece for every gun advocate in America, the NRA has been disturbingly effective at preventing gun control legislation from passing and perpetuating the "us vs. them" mentality between Second Amendment defenders and the rest of the country, always maintaining that the only solution to gun violence is more guns.
For example, in the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook shooting, in which 20 children were shot and killed by lone gunman Adam Lanza, Wayne LaPierre, NRA's executive vice president, offered this piece of wisdom:
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
It echoes the organization's longtime belief that the issue doesn't lie in the guns themselves but who pulls the trigger. However, that justification is rendered completely moot when the person pulling the trigger is a toddler who doesn't understand what he's doing. And even if the problem does lie in the shooter — as in the case of Amari Brown — children are still dying at the hands of them nonetheless. If guns weren't in the picture, a bullet intended for his father would have never hit Brown. If parents had nothing to hide in poorly locked safes, 9-month-old William Reddick would still be alive today.
Despite their most shameless efforts to brush the issue under the rug, redirect blame any way they can, and even promote guns to children with a "Youth Day" program, child firearm deaths might just be the thread that unravels the NRA's entire argument.
Every time a gun takes the life of a child, it should be reported with gusto — I'm talking about reporting as comprehensive as election coverage. There's no reason why gun control can't galvanize the nation the way racial injustice has over the last year, but we need to keep the discourse alive. Every advocate for gun reform should make it a personal goal to become a thorn in the NRA's side, not just to enact change for the future, but to honor all of those we have lost to guns in the past.Images: Getty Images (3)