Public Comment

How Many Children Will It take?

By Tom H. Hastings
Wednesday January 12, 2011 - 11:16:00 AM

Christina Taylor Green is a message spirit. She arrived on Earth on September 11, 2001, a day when terrorists armed with no more than boxcutters turned jet airliners into guided missiles and slaughtered almost 3,000 people, mostly civilians. Indeed, she was one of the babies featured in a book, Faces of Hope, that looked at one baby from each of the United States born on that day. The third-grader had been elected to her Mesa Verde elementary school student council and was at the meet-up for congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords with a neighbor adult, Susan Hileman. The two were holding hands when gunfire erupted on January 8. 

For me, this child's death engenders the question, How many children will it take? 

How many children will it take before the Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins stand down from violent imagery and rhetoric? Would it be so hard for them to find language that doesn't evoke killing, shooting and crosshairs? How debilitating to their effectiveness could it be? Do they believe they would lose followers if they honored the spirit of this child and abjured such language? Do they need the kind of followers who only respond to that imagery? 

How many children will it take? How many before those who defend the Second Amendment finally agree that it doesn't apply to handguns, and if it does, it's time to repeal it? Ah, they say, guns don't kill people, people kill people. Yes, but it seems that when given the option, murderers seem to choose handguns, don't they? Christina was not in fact stabbed, nor was she bombed, nor was she run down by a malicious driver. She was shot. That was the weapon of choice. A knife-wielding assassin would simply never have been able to kill six and wound 14 more. In a knife attack upon a public figure, Christina would almost certainly have been a survivor. Bombs are already outlawed. And how many times each year do murderers run a car into a crowd of people, killing six and injuring so many? We are not going to outlaw cars, since they are not designed to murder and since they transport us to work, to school, to shop, etc. 

But handguns are different. Yes, hunters, I see your hands. I am not suggesting your rifles are part of this conversation. Just handguns, and that is what most of us who want to outlaw guns are talking about. Outlaw handguns. What is so sacred about them? Really? Against the life of Christina Taylor Green? 

How about the 500 or more children who are killed accidentally by guns annually in the US? Well, you say, I keep my handgun locked. Sure, and do you inspect the homes where your child might go? Should the parents of 4-year old Dylan Jackson have swept the home where their child was at a birthday party, where he found a gun, picked it up and innocently shot himself dead in the chest? 

Well, to paraphrase Madeleine Albright in the late 1990s when asked if the thousands of Iraqi children dying every year because of the deadly sanctions program kept out many crucial medicines, "We think it's worth the price." Is that what handgun lovers believe? That without their handguns, the communist Muslim Obama government would take away their freedoms? Seriously? That, after all, is the stated reason for the Second Amendment, to prevent the government from infringing on the people. Since the US leads the so-called developed world in gun deaths per hundred thousand citizens, I guess we can safely say it's just lucky we have that Second Amendment, so we aren't oppressed like the Canadians, Scots, Finns and Japanese, all of whom have far lower rates of gun deaths than do we. I guess they are just too protective of their little children, willing to give up liberties to keep them alive. Oh, that's right, the only liberties they give up are the gun rights. 

Guns are how we murder in the US (a higher rate amongst the nations studied than any except Colombia, even higher than Guatemala in terms of percent of murders committed by guns) and how we commit suicide. They make it easy. We like it easy, and the stories of hurt and killed children have not dented the gun lovers. 16,907 suicides in the US in 2004 were by gun, many of them by teenagers temporarily despondent and highly unlikely to end their lives in any other way. But there was a gun available, as there was when more than 50,000 lost their lives in the US to guns last year, and the year before, and the year before...even box cutters and jetliners can't approach those mortality numbers. 

Really, gun lovers, just be honest. The lives of these children just don't matter much to you once we start talking about the sacred right to own your handgun, eh? Apparently, there is no number, no story of unspeakable tragedy, no little face that can pierce the armor you have around your love for your handguns. I get that. What I don't get is why the rest of us allow it to remain law and public policy. 


Tom H. Hastings ( is Director of PeaceVoice, a program of the Oregon Peace Institute.