This Network Director Note is the first in a new series we will be publishing a few times each year on important topics in child advocacy.
We are all grieving the murders of 19 young children and two of their teachers in Uvalde Texas. We are also grieving the recent murders of 10 Black community members at a Buffalo supermarket, depriving children of loved family and friends, traumatizing the community, closing the neighborhood supermarket and creating a food desert. Yet the carnage continues, with at least 12 mass shootings including 8 deaths and 55 injured over Memorial Day weekend. Directly and indirectly, these events harmed children.
This march of death and injury, with murderer after murderer using guns legally obtained, reminds us that gun safety is a policy issue. Specifically, it’s a children’s policy issue, and one where state level policy can make a big difference. “The states with the lowest gun death rates have stronger gun laws. Each of the five states with the lowest gun death rate had both the following gun laws in place in 2020: 1) a firearm purchaser licensing law or a waiting period; and 2) an Extreme Risk Protection Order law. Purchaser licensing laws require an individual to apply for and obtain a license before purchasing a firearm. Extreme Risk Protection Order laws are mechanisms to temporarily remove firearms from individuals at risk for suicide or violence against others.”
In 2020, when nearly 2300 children died from guns, for the first time guns surpassed motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for children. Children’s deaths from guns are increasing even faster than adult deaths from guns—30% from 2019 to 2020.
As distressing as mass school shootings are, they are only a small fraction of the problem. Most homicides of children under 13 from guns are in the home. Youth suicides are growing at an alarming rate, and guns are frequently the means. Many children die from unintentional injuries. For each death there are many more gun injuries; in 2012 over 20,000 children were hospitalized due to guns. Add to this the children traumatized when a family member or friend is shot or killed. The number of children affected by gun violence is huge and growing.
What Can Partnership Members Do?
Child advocates can work to improve gun safety at the federal, state, and local levels. As we have often seen in the wake of such mass shootings, advocates may also need to fight bad proposals that harm children while doing nothing to protect them. As a network, we can learn from each other’s experiences and share our ideas. The Partnership for America’s Children will share information and resources to support you in this work.
The mass shootings in Uvalde and in Buffalo may have opened the door to some federal policy improvements. The Partnership will track federal developments and advise members of opportunities to engage on this issue.
While the Senate and House are on recess this week, a small bipartisan group of Senators is meeting to discuss whether agreement can be reached. Senator Murphy (D-CT) is leading the negotiations for the Democrats. Minority Leader McConnell has tasked Senator Cornyn (R-TX) with leading the Republican side of the discussions; Senator Cornyn also helped write the Fix NICS Act in 2017, a provision eventually included in a large appropriations bill that was intended to improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prevent felons and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms.
Senator Cornyn has suggested that they will be talking about access to mental health services, background checks and “limitations under federal law of what sort of firearms you can buy and own and maintain, if you have a criminal or mental health record”. A big bill, such as a ban on assault rifles, seems unlikely.
Senator Schumer has said that if the negotiations do not produce results quickly, they will hold a series of votes on gun regulation that would hold Republicans accountable for voting against popular provisions; however, a number of Democrats in purple states with close 2022 races would prefer to avoid such votes and instead pass a bipartisan bill that Republicans could not use against them in the elections.
Those included in the talks are reportedly Sens. Blumenthal (D-CT), Manchin (D-WV), Sinema (D-AZ), Heinrich (D-NM), Collins (R-ME), Toomey (R-PA), Graham (R-SC) and Sen. Cassidy (R-LA). Since any legislation will need at least 10 Republican votes to pass, advocates may want to reach out both to these negotiators and to other Republican Senators that might be open to supporting some bill.
There are also opportunities to improve gun safety at the state and local level. Research from Rand’s Gun Policy in America initiative found 10 policies that can be shown to reduce—or increase—gun injuries and deaths; their research shows that Child Access Prevention laws reduce unintended injuries and deaths. So far only 19 states have such laws. Waiting periods and background checks also reduce harm. Solutions specific to mass shootings include handgun purchaser licensing laws and bans of large-capacity magazines (LCMs).
Some policy steps do not even require legislation. Here are six community led initiatives that can help improve gun safety and ameliorate the consequences.
Tools for Child Advocates
Partnership members can share ideas and strategies on our members only gun list serve at [email protected]. Email Caleb Herbst at [email protected] if you want to be added to it. We encourage members who have engaged in gun policy work in their states to share their experiences for colleagues to learn from, including both affirmative efforts and efforts to prevent bad policies from being enacted. Also please let us know if there are connections we can make for you.
One of the challenges of work to improve gun safety is that for 20 years the federal government could not conduct or fund research on it. Some research is now happening; the CDC information on gun violence is useful but incomplete. There are also a number of private research efforts including the Rand site above and the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions.
Some of the leading advocacy organizations working to prevent gun violence are Brady (formally Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence), Everytown for Gun Safety, and Giffords. The Center For American Progress has a significant role in coordinating national advocacy.
What one Partnership member does often benefits children beyond their state or community. Sometimes members provide models and resources that other members can build on in their states; sometimes when many members work on federal advocacy campaigns they provide the key votes to achieve important policy wins or prevent bad legislation. (Partnership members, for example, played a critical role in saving the ACA in 2017.) The increasing focus on gun policy may mean that this is now an area where our collaboration may deepen the impact of all our work. If gun policy is on your agenda, please share your plans and progress. And let us know how we can support your work.