A friend’s status update on my Facebook news feed read: I’m so horrified. I can’t stop crying. I want my baby home from school. How does this happen? The next one: I can barely breathe thinking of all those babies at school in Newtown, [Connecticut]. One by one, I read my friends’, other moms, hearts break.
That’s how I found out about the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school on Friday, leaving 27 dead, including 20 children. Twenty little, little children. Children the same age as my own. Like my friends, I found it hard to breathe. To concentrate. Hard to stop the tears from welling, thinking of those children, those families – and of our children in their classrooms right at that moment, blissfully ignorant in a world increasingly cruel and bloody. Some moms across the country picked up their children early from school. Some wept at their computers or their desk at work. And many are outraged and want to do something, to speak out about gun control. If there has ever been a time to find our voices and make them count, it’s now, for our babies to grow up in a world that’s safer.
The mom lobby
During 2008 and 2009, over 34,000 American children and teens were injured by guns. Among 23 industrialized nations, the U.S. can claim 80% of gun deaths and 87% of gun deaths in children under 15. We’re number one in guns per capita. It is estimated we have more guns in civilian hands than number of registered cars, trucks and motorcycles in 2009. Our politicians have been useless in protecting our society from gun violence, cowering to the ridiculously powerful gun lobby and the mental calculus of re-elections. Why should they work to pass safer laws? There’s little incentive, save for the good of society. That’s apparently not enough. No significant legislation has been passed in the past two decades despite our nation’s alarming frequency of mass shootings, including the one that badly injured one of Congress’s own.
We’re a nation under hostage by the NRA and a perverse Gumby-ing of the 2nd amendment. But we have power: the mom lobby. We moms can make a difference by pushing our politicians to action and stemming this madness.
Gun control laws needed now
Our federal gun laws (mainly focusing on the sale and transfer of guns) don’t do enough to protect us and our children. Instead, the responsibility has fallen to individual states to provide any kind of comprehensive gun laws, resulting in state-by-state variation with different definitions, exceptions, and coverage. Not surprisingly, states with higher gun ownership and weak gun control laws have the highest rates of gun death. The converse is also true: states with lower gun ownership and strong gun control laws have lower rates of gun death. This should be the model for the whole country.
We need sensible federal gun laws that keep us and our children safer now and will provide for:
-Background checks on everyone who buys a gun. Currently, private sellers and gun shows are not subject to this requirement.
-Gun locking device laws. Only 11 states have gun-locking device laws to protect children from guns. Yet, all have child safety seat laws; all but two require flotation devices for children during recreational boating or other water activities. Twenty-six percent of child and teen gun injuries in 2009 were accidental.
-Strong child access prevention laws. These permit criminal prosecution of adults when negligently stored guns could or does allow a child to access them. Currently, 27 states have some form of child access prevention laws, but they vary in standards.
-Assault weapons ban.
-High-capacity magazine ban.
-Require gun registration and licenses, like automobiles.
Mass shootings like the one in Sandy Hook are complex. There may be mental illness involved. Each individual event may have a host of factors that yielded the final, gruesome outcome. Yet, the overall pattern is undeniable. We are not #1 for nothing.
We are a nation losing control, and it’s becoming incompatible with life as we know it and want it. For our babies and their babies right on down the line, we need to act and we need to act now. Be heard. Demand change.
Katherine Chretien is an associate professor of medicine at George Washington University. You can also find her at Mothers in Medicine blog.