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guns

John Arthur Greene (left) and his brother Kevin


A childhood game can go very wrong in the blink of an eye.

"You'll never get me!"

“Freeze! Put your hands up."

If you've ever played cops and robbers, you know how the game goes.


John Arthur Greene was 8 and he was playing that game with his older brother Kevin. Only the two brothers played with real guns. Living on a farm, they were both old hands at handling firearms by their ages.

The blast from the gun must have startled them both.

firearms, family, children

John Arthur Greene (left) and his brother Kevin.

Image from "American Idol"/YouTube.

“We were always extremely safe. They were never loaded," John said.

Except this time it was. And John's brother died in his arms while he watched.

It happens more often than you would ever want to imagine.

In federal data from 2007 to 2011, which is likely under-reported, an average of 62 children were accidentally killed by firearms per year.

Here's a chilling example from Everytown for Gun Safety:

"In Asheboro, North Carolina, a 26-year-old mother was cleaning her home when she heard a gunshot. Rushing into the living room, she discovered that her three-year-old son had accidentally shot her boyfriend's three-year-old daughter with a .22-caliber rifle the parents had left in the room, loaded and unlocked."

And the numbers may actually be getting worse.

With an increase in unfettered access to guns and philosophical opposition to gun regulations, the numbers seem to be on the rise. Here's how many accidental shootings happened at the hands of children in 2015 alone, by age:

gun safety, laws, research data on gun deaths

Unintentional Firearm Injuries & Deaths, 2015.

From January 19-26 of 2016 — just one week — at least seven kids were accidentally shot by another kid.

American Idol, guilt and sorrow, accidental shootings

Accidental shootings of kids in one week, January 2016.

If the pace holds up for the rest of the year, America would be looking at over 300 accidental shootings of children, in many cases by children, for the year. That's far too many cases of children either carrying the guilt and pain of having shot a loved one or hurting or killing themselves by accident.

John Arthur Greene has been able to manage his feelings of guilt and sorrow through music and by sharing his story for others to hear.

He told his story during an audition for the final season of "American Idol." He says music has helped him keep his brother's memory alive:

"Right now I lift him up every day and he holds me up. Music is how I coped with everything."

It's a powerful reminder. No matter how we each feel about gun safety laws, guns should always be locked away unloaded and kept separately from ammunition.

Our babies are too precious to leave it to chance.

Watch John Arthur Greene's audition for "American Idol" here:

This article originally appeared on 03.07.16

Corey Hixon's father was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018.

When we debate guns and gun violence in this country, we tend to get bogged down in statistics and often argue over semantics.

There is zero question that the U.S. is a complete outlier among developed nations when it comes to gun deaths, and even more of an outlier when it comes to mass shootings. No other high-income nation puts their children through active shooter drills at school. None of our peer countries have firearms as the leading cause of death for children and teens like we do. (In fact, it's not even in the top five causes of death in any other high-income nation.)

And yet, no matter how many times we experience gunmen massacring schoolchildren, no matter how many shocking or sobering stats we see, a not-insignificant portion of our country either denies that there's a problem or denies that there's anything we can do about it.


Because our debates over this issue can get unnecessarily complicated, it's good to be reminded of the simple truth that guns cause unnecessary loss, grief and pain. And nowhere has that been made more clear than in Corey Hixon's brief testimony at the trial for Nikolas Cruz, the murderer who shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018.

One of those killed was Corey Hixon's father, Chris Hixon. He was the athletic director at the school and was shot and killed while trying to disarm the gunman. According to Florida ABC affiliate Local 10, Hixon was one of the last to speak before the court. Rather than have him read a victim impact statement, the judge asked Hixon, who lives with Kabuki syndrome, what he wanted to share about his father.

In just two sentences—each of which was followed up by an emotional hug with his mom—Hixon distilled the emotional reality of our nation's gun problem and brought home what gets lost when we keep doing nothing.

Watch:

The whole room felt that "I miss him!" But the simple description of walking to get donuts together and walking back home every Saturday is just gut-wrenching. It's those little things, the everyday connections and joys and time spent together, that gun violence rips away.

This isn't the first time Corey Hixon has touched people's hearts. A video of him giving Joe Biden a hug at his father's funeral when Biden was vice president went viral during the 2020 election season.

People try to say that gun control won't stop mass shootings, but can't we at least try? Nikolas Cruz legally purchased the AR-15-style rifle he used to terrorize and slaughter students and faculty at that high school. He was a legal gun owner, right up until he wasn't. Though he had no criminal record, red flag laws—which Florida enacted in the wake of the Parkland shooting—could have prevented him from being able to legally purchase or own a firearm.

We have plenty of statistical evidence that gun laws do work. But unfortunately, statistics aren't likely to change people's minds. At this point, if appealing to emotion by sharing the grief families have to live with is more effective to persuade, fine. The emotions are real and the stats are sound, so if that's what it takes to get people to accept reality and do something about it, so be it.

No child should have to go through what Corey Hixon has. And no American should look away from his pain when he truly could be any of us.

Photo courtesy of Change the Ref

The NRA Children's Museum is meant to get lawmakers' attention.

When Joaquin Oliver was 12, he wrote a letter to gun owners imploring them to support background check legislation to help prevent gun violence in America. When he was 17, he was shot and killed in a hallway outside his creative writing class at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Oliver's parents, Manuel and Patricia, have been on a mission to raise awareness and reduce the influence of the gun lobby ever since. They founded the gun control advocacy organization Change the Ref and their latest initiative may be their most powerful yet.

gun violence, NRA, gun controlManuel and Patricia Oliver's son Joaquin was killed in the Parkland, Florida, school massacre in 2018.Courtesy of Change the Ref

On July 14, the Olivers took a mile-long convoy of 52 school buses—dubbed The NRA Children's Museum—to Ted Cruz's offices in Houston, Texas, to deliver Joaquin's letter to him.

The empty seats on 51 of the buses represent the more than 4,368 children in the United States that the organization claims would have sat in them since 2020 had they not been killed by guns. The leading bus is filled with memorabilia of children killed in shootings—things like photos of the children, the clothing they wore or things they carried, such as the Nickelodeon backpack of a student from Santa Clarita, California, a girl scout sash from a student in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and a piece of construction paper artwork from a student in Newtown, Connecticut.


The reason for the buses representing child gun deaths since 2020 is that, according to the CDC, since that year, firearms have overtaken car accidents to become the leading cause of death in children and teens ages 1 to 19 in the U.S.


That fact is worth repeating. Since 2020, gun violence has been the leading cause of death for children and teens in America. More than car accidents. More than disease. That's mind-blowing.

And the reason for heading to Ted Cruz first? Lawmakers in Texas lead the country in donations taken from the gun lobby, and among those lawmakers, Ted Cruz leads the pack.

gun violence, gun legislation, NRA

The NRA Children's Museum is meant to get the attention of lawmakers.

Courtesy of Change the Ref

“To commemorate this horrific historic moment, we are showing American voters the toll these politicians have taken on our children's lives with this all-too-real archive,” Manuel Oliver said in a statement. “And this is only the beginning. We will not stop with Sen. Ted Cruz. To every politician who has stood by, taken NRA money, and refused to listen to the people they represent: the museum is on the way to honor you next.”

“We want to display, for the voters who keep these politicians in office, the consequences of those choices. We want voters to remember which politicians are in the pocket of the NRA when they visit the polls in November,” added Patricia Oliver. “We urge everyone to join us in our mission to fight for every innocent soul lost to gun violence and to demand universal background checks on gun sales.”

Change the Ref requests that Sen. Cruz immediately renounce all future funding from the NRA and listen to the people's will to enact legislation for universal background checks—commonsense gun legislation that most of his constituents, including those in his own party, support. The Olivers hope that their son's letter will spark a realization that receiving political donations from gun lobbyists like the NRA is not worth an innocent child's life.

Reasonable citizens everywhere share the same request and the same hope.

Democracy

A man told me gun laws would create more 'soft targets.' He summed up the whole problem.

As far as I know, there are only two places in the world where people living their lives are referred to as 'soft targets.'

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

Only in America are kids in classrooms referred to as "soft targets."

On the Fourth of July, a gunman opened fire at a parade in quaint Highland Park, Illinois, killing at least six people, injuring dozens and traumatizing (once again) an entire nation.

My family member who was at the parade was able to flee to safety, but the trauma of what she experienced will linger. For the toddler with the blood-soaked sock, who was carried to safety by a stranger after being pulled from under his father's bullet-torn body and ended up losing both of his parents in the massacre, life will never be the same.

There's a phrase I keep seeing in debates over gun violence, one that I can't seem to shake from my mind. After the Uvalde school shooting, I shared my thoughts on why arming teachers is a bad idea, and a gentleman responded with this brief comment:

"Way to create more soft targets."


Soft targets. That phrase gets me every time.

As far as I know, there are only two places in the world where children in school or people gathering for enjoyment are referred to as "soft targets"—active war zones and the United States of America.

Never in a million years would I think to use the words "soft targets" to refer to schoolchildren—or parade-goers, or people enjoying a live concert, or grocery shoppers or people in a bible study. I wouldn't even use the term "unarmed civilians" unless I were in the military and actively involved in a military operation.

They're not targets, they're people. People just living life.

That's what freedom is supposed to be, isn't it? The ability to just live life?

Instead, we are being held hostage by a militarized monster of our own making, one that says the answer to America's gun violence is more guns. (The irony, of course, being the fact that we already have more guns than people.) We see it in the weird worshipping of weapons, the Christmas cards with the whole family carrying, the bizarre fetish with one interpretation of one constitutional amendment to the exclusion of all others. It's in the language being used not only in reference to guns, but in reference to people just going about their daily lives—that is, "soft targets."

The truth is we should be "soft targets." No, really. That's what freedom is. We should be able to go to school and the store and our houses of worship without fear of being shot. We should be able to peaceably assemble per our First Amendment right without being scattered and shattered by gunfire.

We shouldn't feel the need to arm ourselves simply to go about our daily lives. Feeling compelled to carry a gun at all times isn't freedom. Living like we're living right now, with mass shootings on the regular, isn't freedom. And adding more guns won't make us more free. It won't. It hasn't.

If the Highland Park parade shooting proved anything, it's that even an event with a police presence in an idyllic, upscale, objectively "safe" suburb isn't safe from mass gun violence. There were good guys with guns there. There were good guys with guns in Uvalde, too. There were good guys with guns in Buffalo. So many good guys with guns. And yet, here we are.

It's time to look in the mirror and recognize how ridiculous we've become. Other civilized nations don't refer to children as "soft targets." They just don't. While we're debating whether the U.S. is a gun violence outlier because of doors or video games or mental illness, which the rest of the world has as well, our peers in other developed countries live their daily lives with freedom that we do not have—the freedom to gather without worrying that a whack job with a weapon of war is going to open fire, the freedom to go to school without rehearsing for a mass shooting event, the freedom to not ever think about carrying a gun to defend themselves against other guns.

Gun violence can happen anywhere, yes. But it happens far, far more often here than in other developed nations. There's a reason for that. Perhaps when we finally accept that our culture's dysfunctional relationship with guns is the problem, the idea of referring to people simply living their lives as "soft targets" will be as disturbing here as it is everywhere else.