How many more children will die at the hands of classmates before we say, "Enough"? How many more funerals will we watch? How many more troubled young people will be led away in handcuffs -- children one minute, murderers the next - until Congress takes steps to end this epidemic? In the last two and a half years, gunmen ranging in age from 6 to 18 shot and killed 25 students and two teachers on school property, wounding another 65. No one will soon forget the scene of terrified teenagers fleeing Columbine High School last April as two classmates, who had spent months meticulously planning the carnage, killed 12 students and a beloved teacher. Or the image of middle-schoolers in Jonesboro, Ark., gunned down as they heeded a false fire alarm to leave their building.
But these heinous crimes did not prepare Americans for the shooting last week of 6-year-old Kayla Rolland. Kayla was apparently shot in the chest by a 6-year-old classmate as they waited to go to the playground. Kayla's assailant had been staying with his uncle in what police suspect was a "crack house," where neighbors had reported nightly gunshots. It appears that the boy shot Kayla with a stolen gun he discovered stashed under some blankets in one of the bedrooms.
Upon hearing news of the tragic shooting, the President echoed the sentiments of many Americans: "How did that child get that gun?" and "If we have the technology today to put in these child safety locks, why don't we do it?" This week, he convened a meeting of Congressional leaders to break the logjam and urge them to pass common-sense gun legislation by April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine shootings.
Eight months ago, after the Vice President cast the tie-breaking vote, the Senate passed a juvenile crime bill that would have mandated child safety locks, banned large ammunition clips, extended the Brady Law to violent juveniles, and required background checks for gun show sales. If the Senate's bill had made it to the President's desk, Kayla Rolland might be alive today. Unfortunately, the Senate bill never even made it to a conference committee meeting.
The House passed a much weaker bill, and to this day, Republican leaders have refused to schedule a conference to discuss a compromise bill. This unconscionable failure to act is attributable to the National Rifle Association's influence and threats to target and defeat members of Congress who support any gun laws.
While Congress fails to act, gunfire continues to take the lives of a dozen American children every day -- over 3,000 children dead since Columbine. It is time for Congress to put America's children above the influence of the NRA -- to reject their hateful tactics, and pass the common-sense gun laws contained in the pending juvenile crime bill. In addition, the President has asked for support to develop smart guns that can only be fired by the adults who own them; to require new handgun buyers to first get a photo license showing that they have passed the Brady background check and a gun safety course; to hire 1,000 new gun prosecutors; and to hold adults responsible when they allow children access to guns.
In a country of 270 million people, where it is estimated that there are 200 to 250 million handguns, we know that no law can stop every act of gun violence. But as the Brady Law has proven, laws can make a difference. Brady background checks have blocked gun purchases by 500,000 felons, fugitives and stalkers. And gun crime is down by more than 35 percent since 1993.
There is something that you, too, can do: On Mothers' Day -- May 14 -- you can join me in Washington for the Million Mom March, when we will either celebrate the passage of sensible gun legislation, or protest Congressional inaction.
The inspiration for the Million Mom March came to Donna Dees-Thomases last August as she was watching the news of the Granada Hills Jewish community center camp shooting. She remembers her response that day: "The images of terrified children being led in a line from the carnage that had just taken place inside were too much to bear. They looked bewildered, confused and scared to death. "One week later, Donna applied for a permit to march on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Donna is calling on mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, godmothers, foster mothers, future mothers, and all others willing to be "honorary mothers" to become part of her crusade.
I hope you will join Donna, the President and me, as we call on Congress to enact legislation that will take and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children.
Nothing less than the lives of our children is at stake.
If you'd like to learn more about the Million Mom March, go to
http://www.millionmommarch.com. The address is Million Mom March, P.O. Box 1686,
West Caldwell, N.J. 07007.
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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