Gun violence has long been a public health crisis for America's children as well as one of the most hotly contested issues to dominate political and private debates. Today's generation of school children are known as the "Columbine Generation" or the "Lockdown Generation" due to the prolificacy of school shooter drills in classrooms all across the nation. Between 1999-2017, 39,000 children from the ages of 5-18 have been killed by guns in the U.S., replacing cancer as the leading cause of child death in America.
John Woodrow Cox, journalist for the Washington Post, has taken up the mantle for the sake and survival of this generation of children in his book "Children Under Fire: An American Crisis."
In a compelling, no-nonsense style, Cox highlights two children, Ava and Tyshaun, whose lives were forever changed by the deaths of a loved one from gun violence. Ava, a kindergartner in 2016, witnessed a shooting on the playground at her school in Townville, South Carolina, which killed her best friend, Jacob. Tyshaun was 7 years old when his father died from a street shooting near his own school in 2017. The bullets that killed their loved ones also penetrated the lives of these two children. In the weeks and months and years to follow, they both experienced unrelenting trauma, fear, despair and deep- seated anger over what had happened. The chronic stress they underwent and still continue to undergo, caused panic attacks, depression and PTSD.
However, school shootings, as horrible as they are, Cox said, are rare occurrences and only one aspect of the gun violence affecting children on a daily basis. Over and over again, children are either witnesses to or victims of drive-by shootings or street shootings. And they have easy access to guns in the homes of family or friends, which has led to numerous accidental shootings, suicides or suicide attempts.
Well-documented research has shown such violence as what Ava and Tyshaun experienced can and has affected their mental and physical health, success in school and how they perceive life around them. And yet, with poor legislation, opposition, lack of interest and even indifference, the damage continues to America's youngest residents. In April 2020, the federal government spent $6.4 billion in response to COVID-19, but just $25 million was spent to fund research into gun violence.
As Cox indicates in his book, there is no vaccine that will destabilize this epidemic that kills a child every single day in this country. Gun violence, Cox explains, is America's "social contagion," in both inner cities and in rural towns, where gun culture is so prevalent children and teenagers can become perpetrators as easily as they can become victims. The majority of both sides of this hotly debated issue share in the great failure to understand the scope of what is happening to our nation's children.
Kimberly Bolton works in the circulation department at the Missouri River Regional Library.