By the time I had read a few pages of John Cox’s Children Under Fire, An American Crisis, I knew I had to read the whole book. Why? Because the book opens with the description of a shooting in the Southeast neighborhood across the Anacostia River from downtown D.C., which is now an underserved, violence-ridden, overwhelmingly Black ghetto. But I happen to have spent the first five years of my life in that neighborhood.
That’s right. From 1944 until 1950, me, my older brother and my parents lived in an apartment on Hillside Road just off Benning Road, about a mile away from where six people were shot in one week, of which the last one killed was the father of seven-year-old Tyshaun McPhatter whose experiences become the initial content of this book.
The young boy’s experiences and the experiences of other children who are connected in some way to acts of gun violence also form the basic argument of this book’s narrative, which is that we underestimate the damage caused by guns to the young population, which then produces a seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence over which we exercise little, if any control.
As long as the author stays focused on the lives of children who are either victims of gun violence or experience it as seeing it damage or kill family and friends, the book reads as a genuinely moving and emotional perspective on an American problem which we do not seem to be able to eliminate or even control.
But there seems to be some unwritten rule in the publishing world that you can’t publish a book about guns or gun violence unless you stick in some kind of half-cocked plan for what needs to be done. And the plan to reduce gun violence found in this book is as stupid as they come.
The author begins by trying to figure out how many children are damaged in some way or another by shootings which occur in and around schools? The author puts the number [pp. 27-28] at more than 350,000, maybe half a million, maybe more.
Except what he doesn’t say is that almost all of these shootings occur on school playgrounds and involve boys and young men who happen to be hanging out in the playground because it’s a convenient spot to buy and sell drugs, particularly in the evening hours after school has let out. Under federal law, schools are required to submit annual reports about violence on school property, and schools happen to be much safer physical environments than the surrounding neighborhoods in cities where gun violence takes place.
The author also makes a mistake by using the term ‘children’ to define anyone under the age of 19 or 20, even though a pediatrician who treats a 20-year-old patient isn’t dealing with a kid. The military trains men and women who have not yet attained their 20th birthday to go into combat zones. Does that mean we are sending children to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq?
As for the ubiquitous dopey plan to reduce gun violence, John Cox tells us that the three most important strategies should be: (1). Universal background checks on all gun transfers; (2). effective ‘safe storage’ laws, usually referred to as child access prevention (CAP) laws; and (3). more research to figure out what will “protect children from gun violence.” [pp. 289-292.]
There has never been one, single study which shows that universal background checks or CAP laws reduce gun violence at all. Not one.
As for more research, did it ever occur to this author ‘noch besser’ (read: better yet) a Pulitzer Prize nominee, that maybe, just maybe we can eliminate gun violence simply by getting rid of certain types of guns? Since when does the 2nd Amendment give carte blanche to owning any kind of gun? It doesn’t, and if you don’t believe me, I refer you to the assault rifle ban passed by the city of Highland Park and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015.
The reason we have gun violence committed by and against kids (and adults) is very simple: the United States is the only country in the entire world which allows residents to own guns that are designed for military use. Sorry, but a Glock 17 pistol chambered for military-grade ammunition isn’t a ‘sporting’ gun.
We don’t need any more research to figure that one out. We just need the authors of books about gun violence to know something about guns.