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Children's Defense Fund report on kids' gun deaths, new gun laws

Data analysis: More preschool kids dead from gunfire than police

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In a report released this month, the Children’s Defense Fund has analyzed recent national data on gunfire deaths and produced some alarming figures on child casualties.  

The report also criticizes a wave of new state gun-rights laws that the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group argues put children in ever more peril.

The nonprofit advocacy group dedicated its report, “Protect Kids, Not Guns 2012,” to Florida teen Trayvon Martin, who was shot dead in February by a neighborhood watch volunteer.

George Zimmerman, 28, disregarded police advice and followed the unarmed Martin, 17, because Zimmerman thought the boy looked “suspicious.” Zimmerman killed Martin, who was walking to his father’s girlfriend’s home, during a confrontation and claims he acted in self-defense.

The Children’s Defense Fund report, which was released March 23, is based largely on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2008 and 2009. The group’s analysis found that 2,947 children and teens died from gunfire in 2008 and 2,793 died in 2009.

Over time, the report’s charts show, child gunfire deaths rose from the early 1980s to a peak of 3,625 in the homicide category alone in 1993. Gun deaths of children overall began falling until 2004, when homicides and suicides again began to fluctuate.

The group acknowledges that its analysis found that the total number of children and teens injured by gunfire fell in 2009 to 13,791 from a high over the last decade of 20,596 in 2008.   

Among the report’s other findings:

  • The total number of preschool-age children killed by guns during those years — 173 —was nearly double the number of law-enforcement officers — 89 — killed in the line of duty.
  • African-American children and teens represented 45 percent of all guns deaths in their age group in 2008 and 2009, but only 15 percent of the total U.S. population of children.
  • The top cause of death for black teens ages 15 to 19 was gun homicide, while for white teens it was motor vehicle accidents followed by gun homicides.
  • More children and teens died from gunfire in 2008 and 2009 — 5,750 — than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Among 23 high-income countries in the world scholars have studied, the United States is home to 80 percent of all gun deaths, and 87 percent of all gun deaths of children younger than 15.

Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund president, writes in the report: “We must remove guns from our homes where children so often find them and put themselves and others in harm’s way. We must teach our children nonviolent ways to resolve conflicts and we must reject pervasive violence in our culture — on TV programs, songs, in movies, and on the internet.”

But Edelman also blames the excessive number of deaths on the “gun lobby,” Congress and state legislators who have loosened gun-control regulations or declined to impose more manufacturing safety standards and limits on firearms.

“Forty-two states have adopted preemption laws to ensure that state legislatures have control of gun policy, impeding the ability of cities to develop local solutions to gun violence in their communities,” Edelman also writes. This suggests, she says, “that they know best although states continue to make decisions detrimental to children.”

Trayvon Martin’s shooting in February has prompted national scrutiny of a 2005 state law in Florida called “Stand Your Ground,” which allows people who feel threatened in public settings, not just in homes, to use deadly force in self-defense. Similar laws have been adopted in more than 20 other states. Authors of Florida law say it should not be applied to Zimmerman, who is claiming he acted in self-defense and has not been arrested.

The Children’s Defense Fund report notes that in Kansas, Mississippi and Utah, state laws enacted  in 2011 now allow people to carry loaded, licensed, concealed weapons either inside or onto the grounds of elementary and secondary schools.

The report also describes another Florida gun-rights law signed by Gov. Rick Scott last year that forbids doctors or medical workers from asking patients about gun ownership and how guns are stored in homes to ensure child safety.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical groups filed suit to overturn the law, contending it violates free-speech rights doctors need to do their jobs responsibly. Last September, a federal judge issued an injunction blocking enforcement of the law.

Nicknamed “docs and Glocks,” the law was the first of its kind, according to the National Rifle Association, which helped draft it. It was inspired, supporters say, by a Florida couple who refused to answer a pediatrician’s questions about guns, and were upset when they were told they should find another doctor.

Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association's lobbyist in Florida, told National Public Radio, “We take our children to pediatricians for medical care — not moral judgment, not privacy intrusions."

The NRA is a staunch proponent of legislation to ensure rights to carry licensed guns, which the group maintains help individual safety. The group also sponsors courses on safe gun use for adults and children. In response to the controversy over the Florida doctors’ law, NRA representatives said they didn’t object to doctors handing out information about gun safety if it were part of broader information on other safety matters, such as swimming pool hazards.

“Protect Kids, Not Guns” includes a list of mass shootings of children since 2008, some during rampages by adults or teens or family members.  

At the top of the list is the Feb. 27, 2012, Chardon, Ohio, school shooting that claimed the lives of three students and injured two when another student, T.J. Lane, opened fire in the school cafeteria and in a hallway. Lane, 17, may have used a family member’s licensed gun, which was missing from a barn where it was stored, according to press reports.