TALKING IT OVER
May 10, 2000
Earlier this week, the FBI released new statistics showing that crime is down for the eighth year in a row, the longest decline on record. One dramatic statistic: In 1999, there were over 8,000 fewer murders nationwide than in 1992.
And yet, with gun violence declining, gunfire still claims the lives of nearly 12 children every day.
The American Academy of Pediatrics calls the rate of firearm injuries and deaths among young people a major public health issue, and warns that, if current trends continue, gun violence could become the leading cause of death among children in this country by 2006.
In the nation's capital, Easter Monday dawned bright and sunny -- the perfect day for an outing. Schools were out, and hundreds of families headed to the National Zoo. But before the day was over, seven children, ranging in age from 11 to 16, fell victim to gunfire when a 16-year-old allegedly used a handgun to settle a dispute. Shot in the head, fifth-grader Harris Bates remains hospitalized with critical injuries.
So now, we add the National Zoo to the list: Littleton, Jonesboro, Flint, West Paducah, Springfield, Pearl, Conyers, Fort Worth and Granada Hills -- names that should haunt us until, as a nation, we summon the courage to get guns out of the hands of children and criminals.
Predictably, after each tragic shooting, there are loud calls for stricter gun laws. The President has urged Congress to send him a gun safety bill that he can sign, and has proposed the largest national gun enforcement initiative in history. Last May, the Senate passed a bill that mandated safety locks for handguns, banned imports of large-capacity ammunition clips, and required sellers at gun shows to do background checks on gun buyers. But under the weight of the gun lobby, negotiations with the House so far have failed.
Meanwhile, as this lifesaving legislation languishes, thousands more children have been killed or injured with guns. I find myself wondering how members of Congress can bear to delay taking action even one extra day. How many more children are they willing to let die? When will they join the majority of Americans and say, "Enough is enough"?
Last August, a New Jersey mother of two decided she had had enough, and that it was time to send a very loud message to Congress and politicians around the country. Donna Dees-Thomases says her wake-up call came as she watched the news of the Granada Hills day camp shooting. She says she felt ashamed -- "Ashamed because I've sat back while others battle the gun lobby to protect our children."
One week later, Donna applied for a permit to lead a Mother's Day march on the nation's capital. On May 14, women from every corner of the nation will descend on Washington for the Million Mom March. Designed to put Congress on notice that common-sense gun policies, such as licensing and registration, are what the American people want, organizers are hoping to attract not just mothers, but also fathers, grandparents, children, neighbors, family and friends to join in their effort.
Leaders of the rally do not advocate banning guns. Rather, they want gun owners to be licensed, registered, and to participate in mandatory safety training. Organizers also support sensible "cooling-off" periods for handgun sales, background checks for all gun purchases, safety locks, one-handgun-per-month purchase limits and no-nonsense enforcement of existing gun laws.
Yvonne Pope, whose son was shot dead on July 29, 1993, after an argument on the basketball court, will march on Sunday. Even as she talks about what it's like to know that she will never hear her son's voice again or give him a hug, she says that standing arm in arm with thousands of other women will be a blessing.
Nov. 6, 1995, is the day Jaquie Algee lost her 19-year-old son Kenneth to gun violence. Jaquie is organizing the Atlanta march, the largest of the local events that will take place on Sunday in 63 other cities around the country. Like millions of other moms, Jaquie is angry. She says, "Too many children are dying preventable deaths. We are putting our elected officials on notice that we, the mothers, will no longer tolerate them putting the gun lobby before the safety of our children." It is past time for Congress to support meaningful gun safety measures. Like car owners, gun owners should undergo safety training. And like drivers, gun owners should be licensed and required to register their weapons. The choice is simple: Stand by and do nothing as a dozen children are killed each day, or join the Million Mom March this Sunday, and send Congress the message that America's moms have had enough.
If you'd like to learn more about the Million Mom March, you can visit their web site at www.millionmommarch.com, or call, toll-free, 1-888-989-MOMS (6667).
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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