“The time is now. We cannot ignore the gun violence epidemic that disproportionately affects Black and Brown children. It is our moral obligation to fight for their safety, well-being, and equal opportunity.”
Gun violence continues to plague our communities, leaving a trail of devastation and heartbreak in its wake. As we grapple with this relentless epidemic, it is crucial to shed light on the experiences of the victims and survivors who have suffered immeasurable pain. Among those most disproportionately impacted are Black and Brown children, whose lives are cut short or forever altered by senseless acts of gun violence. We must demand legislative action to put an end to this crisis and ensure the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable communities.
We know that mass shootings involving guns have become a fact of American culture. Although mass murders have occurred throughout history, new gun technology has made murders more deadly. Today, guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the United States since surpassing car accidents in 2020. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wonder database, firearms accounted for nearly 19 percent of childhood deaths (ages 1-18) in 2021.
Nearly 3,600 children died in gun-related incidents in 2021. The average is approximately five children lost for every 100,000 children in the United States. In no other comparable country are firearms within the top four causes of mortality among children, according to a KFF analysis.
Behind these staggering statistics lie countless stories of tragedy and loss. We must remember the names and faces of those affected. Let us honor the lives of Amerie Jo Garza, Rohan Levy, Hadiya Pendleton and countless others who should have been allowed to grow into bright futures. These young lives were stolen by gun violence, leaving their families shattered and communities traumatized. The pain and trauma experienced by these families cannot be measured, and their voices deserve to be heard.
Gun violence is not an equalizer; it exacerbates the deep-rooted inequities that already exist. Black and Brown children are disproportionately affected by this epidemic, facing higher rates of gun violence in their neighborhoods and schools. They grow up in constant fear, wondering if they will be the next victims of this vicious cycle. We cannot ignore the systemic factors that perpetuate this violence, including poverty, lack of resources, and limited access to quality education and healthcare.
These factors/issues are debated among our lawmakers and to that end, to truly address this crisis, we must demand legislative action at every level of government. We need comprehensive gun control measures that prioritize the safety of our communities. Sensible reforms such as universal background checks, closing loopholes in gun sales, and banning assault weapons are necessary steps forward. We cannot afford to let political divides hinder progress when innocent lives are at stake.
Fortunately, in September 2022, after working with legislators, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced new concealed carry laws that passed in response to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the New York State’s long-standing pistol permitting process. The new laws increased background checks and firearm training for people seeking to obtain concealed carry permits, and prohibited concealed carry permit holders from bringing firearms into sensitive locations, such as schools and in New York City Transit.
In addition to ensuring we have better gun laws in New York and around the country, we must also invest in our communities and address the underlying causes of gun violence. This means providing economic opportunities, quality education, mental health services, and support systems for at-risk youth. It means tackling the systemic racism and discrimination that perpetuate violence and create the conditions for it to thrive. We must dismantle the school-to- prison pipeline and invest in restorative justice practices that empower and uplift our communities.
The fight to end gun violence must be a collective effort. We must come together across racial, socioeconomic, and political lines to demand change. We need community organizations, activists, educators, law enforcement, and policymakers to work in unison towards a common goal: protecting our children and ensuring their right to a safe and secure future.
At The Gathering for Justice, we are focused on protecting our children. Our mission is to build a movement to end child incarceration while working to eliminate the racial inequities that permeate the justice system. Through our campaign “To End the War on Children” we are building a movement of young people bringing their voices, ideas, and power to decision- makers at administrative, municipality, county, state, and federal levels.
Our youth cohort will create a unifying agenda to “End the War on Children” that will include policies to end police presence and increase counselors in schools, stop the ballooning number of homeless youth in New York, pass comprehensive procedural protections for detained young people, and more, based upon the experience and enthusiasm of impacted young leaders.
The time is now. We cannot ignore the gun violence epidemic that disproportionately affects Black and Brown children. It is our moral obligation to fight for their safety, well-being, and equal opportunity. We must amplify the voices of the victims and survivors, demanding legislative action and comprehensive reforms that address the root causes of this crisis.
By investing in our communities and unifying for change, we can create a society where all children, regardless of their race or background, can grow up without the constant threat of gun violence.
Luis Jonathan Hernandez is the director of youth campaigns and leadership at The Gathering for Justice and the co-founder and executive director of Youth Over Guns.