Broken Hearts, Broken Systems, and a Call for Action
The massacre of 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, is the most recent tragedy in a seemingly unending series of mass killings at schools, churches, supermarkets, and other sites in the United States. As members of a Jesuit law school community, we value all human life, but especially that of the most vulnerable among us—our children. Our hearts are broken as we grieve for the children lost to senseless gunfire and with all the families who have lost precious loved ones.
Regardless of our political affiliations or beliefs, we cannot ignore the research: gun violence is now the leading cause of death among American children and teens. One out of every ten gun deaths are youth ages 19 or younger. Gunfire on school grounds is at a historic high. There have been 948 school shootings since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, gun violence has killed more people in the United States than all wars since the American Revolutionary War combined.
From a human rights perspective, what is clear is that these shootings violate the most fundamental rights of children: the right to safety, the right to a healthy development, the right to family unity, and—above all—the right to life.
We also know that while the factors leading to these shootings are complex, there is one single common element in all of these shootings: access to lethal weapons. The gunman in the Uvalde, Texas, shooting reportedly legally purchased two assault rifles two days prior. The majority of gun-related incidents at schools involved guns taken from the home of a friend or relative.
We must stop characterizing these mass shootings as discrete, unpreventable tragedies. School shootings are preventable. Gun violence is preventable. As members of the legal community and defenders of the rights of children, we feel a unique responsibility to take action and call upon our local, state and federal elected officials to do so. First steps, as advised by the Ignatian Solidarity Network, include:
- A renewal of the total ban on assault weapons;
- Measures that control the sale and use of firearms, such as universal background checks for all gun purchases;
- Limitations on civilian access to high-capacity weapons and ammunition magazines;
- A federal law to criminalize gun trafficking;
- Improved access to and increased resources for mental health care and earlier interventions;
- Regulations and limitations on the purchase of handguns;
- Measures that make guns safer, such as locks that prevent children and anyone other than the owner from using the gun without permission and supervision; and
- An honest assessment of the toll of violent images and experiences which inundate people, particularly our youth.
We at the Center for the Human Rights of Children, the Civitas ChildLaw Center and the Education, Law & Policy Institute would like to add one more action item: resolve to invest in the well-being of all children and young people on all levels, especially youth mental health. This includes bullying and violence prevention, trauma responsive supports, and implementation of evidence-supported school safety interventions such as social emotional learning and mental health services.
We must take action today, before the next tragedy, before another community must grieve the loss of its children.
Diane Geraghty, Civitas ChildLaw Center
Miranda B. Johnson, Education Law and Policy Institute
Katherine Kaufka Walts, Center for the Human Rights of Children