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Dear NRA, Are You Really Going to Tell Me 'Guns Don't Kill Children, Children Kill Children'?

Startling statistics reveal the deadly and tragic consequences of America's infatuation with firearms.
 
 
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The cover of the recent  Children's Defense Fund  report (pdf) on gun violence in the  United States carries a single statistic:

The number of children and teens killed by guns in one year would fill 134 classrooms of 20 students each.

That's just a more dramatic way of stating an already staggering figure – 2,694 in 2010. Most of the report's 73 following pages are devoted to restating it. Sometimes, this done to illustrate the chilling frequency of such deaths:

• One child or teen died every 3 hours and 15 minutes
• Seven children and teens died every day, more than 20 every three days
• Fifty-one children and teens died every week

Other times, the same set of statistics (all from the  Centers for Disease Control) is used to drive home the magnitude of the tragedy, relating it to the kinds of violence we think we understand:

Nearly three times more children and teens were injured by guns in 2010 than the number of US soldiers wounded in action that year in the war in Afghanistan; 82 children under five died from guns in 2010, compared to 55 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

And then, there's the shameful comparison to other countries:

US children and teens are 17 times more likely to die from a gun than their peers in 25 other high-income countries combined.

Put it slightly differently:

US children and teens made up 43% of all children and teens in these 26 countries but were 93% of all children and teens killed by guns.

The report is an exercise in word problem reformatting, a hideous nightmare of a standardized test in which every answer is both "all of the above" and wrong. We have failed. The numbers in the examples change, but the fact they illustrate is big and ugly and refuses cosmetic adjustment: the United States, despite a meekly  gratifying downward trend, continues to kill its young people with guns at rate more in line with war-torn nations than the prosperous, peaceful countries we presume to lead. In a different, but equally upsetting report, the World Health Organization  observed (pdf):

With the notable exception of the United States, most countries with youth homicide rates above 10 per 100,000 are either developing countries or countries caught up in the turmoil of social and economic change.

The repetitiveness of the statistics reflects desperation, I think. One can picture the authors' frantic oneupmanship in coming up with ways to make the truth as vivid as possible: compare it to war! Compare it to Sandy Hook! And, of course, show us the victims – not via pictures of the violence itself, thank God, but in descriptions of who they were: post-Sandy Hook stories salt the wound:

Steven Curtis, 12, dead after accidentally shooting himself in the head with his father's gun. Caroline Sparks, 2, shot in the chest and killed by her five-year-old brother. Tayloni Mazyck, 11, caught in gang crossfire and paralyzed for life. The list goes unrelentingly on. (As of July, the New York Daily News  found 120 children had been killed by gunfire since Sandy Hook; they relied only on news reports, not CDC surveys. The end number will be undoubtedly, horrifyingly larger.)

The report wallops us over the head with statistics because its authors can't reach through the pages and throttle us. The frustration is as understandable as it is evident, for as gruesome as the statistics about violence are, the recounting of what legislation has and has not passed is even more dispiriting. Over and over, the public's willingness (even eagerness) to tighten gun laws has been outmatched by the cowardice of politicians in mysterious thrall to the National Rifle Association.

 
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