Philadelphia is hard at work making life better for children. From free pre-K to rehabbed recreation centers to massive new investment in our schools, our local political leaders have demonstrated with their rhetoric and their votes that kids come first.
At the same time, the leading cause of death for many of our children is homicide committed with a firearm.
These gunshots, the wounds they inflict, and the deaths they cause are exacting an untenable emotional and financial toll on our city, our neighborhoods, and our families. We should neither bear this pain nor these costs.
On Oct. 20, 2-year-old Nikolette Rivera’s life was ended by a single shot by a lone murderer. But make no mistake: That gunman did not act alone. He was aided and abetted in this heinous crime by a corrupted democratic process.
The most powerful members of Congress have succumbed to coercion. They now pledge their allegiance to the rights of companies selling firearms over their elected duty to preserve our freedom to live without the fear of dying by gunfire, as Nikolette did.
The core purpose of the federal government is the security and safety of American citizens. But the millions in corporate donations flowing to the gun industry’s front group, the National Rifle Association, threatens the safety of every American, especially the youngest among us.
Nearly 40,000 Americans lost their lives in 2017, either from a crime or suicide enabled only by a gun, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As haunting as that statistic is, more than 3,400 of those deaths were children and teens, the Children’s Defense Fund reports, the equivalent of wiping out 171 classrooms full of students.
Our children are being martyred by a political system that is accountable to corporate donors who set the terms among members of Congress, who in turn espouse the rhetoric of a tone-deaf citizens movement of gun owners.
Many more are terribly injured, like the 11-month-old Philadelphia boy who was shot four times just the day before Nikollete was slain.
Our children are being martyred by a political system that is accountable to corporate donors who set the terms among members of Congress, who in turn espouse the rhetoric of a tone-deaf citizens movement of gun owners. Millions of dollars are spent trying to make Americans believe that an archaic and illogical reading of the Second Amendment is worth dying for. Yet none of those 40,000 men, women and children killed by guns volunteered to take a bullet for this cause.
But most Americans don’t share the views of the NRA and, fortunately, more of our fellow citizens have a negative view of the group than a positive one – 47 percent vs. 42 percent, according to a Fox News poll in August. Other polls indicate strong support for background checks for all gun sales among NRA members. And there is strong bipartisan support for action on the state and federal levels to make our communities less deadly by reforming who can buy guns and how they are sold.
Yet a stalemate persists because we haven’t cracked the code on how to undercut the NRA’s radical agenda and save the lives of our children.
So let’s break the stalemate by shifting our focus. Start by considering two alternatives.
Let’s fight for a federal death tax paid by companies to have the right to sell guns. Like a wholesale tax on the distribution of gasoline, this tax would be paid for every gun and bullet sold. We’d need to generate about $229 billion a year to cover the costs that guns have dumped on communities. This would allow Congress to protect the gun industry from liability for the death and damage inherent in their products, but at least a death tax would pay for a victims’ compensation fund, covering the cost of lives lost and beginning to assuage the pain in our communities.
Or, better yet, Congress could remove the protections shielding gun companies from product liability. It could require every gun manufacturer to carry insurance policies sufficient to cover the costs of a shooting, from the ambulance and emergency room care to post-operative efforts and physical therapy, and also for funeral expenses and the pain and suffering imposed on parents. The institutions and companies often stuck paying the bills of those wounded or killed by guns represent a key potential ally in the struggle.
Either one of these strategies would force the real decision-makers on gun policy – gun manufacturers and sellers – to knock loudly on the door of Congress and beg for commonsense firearm laws like universal background checks, closing the gun show loophole, limits on magazines, mandatory gun locks, and red flag laws. No doubt they will prefer these options to being saddled with the financial burden caused by their industry.
Of course, guns aren’t the only reason our babies in Philadelphia are dying. But let’s start there and learn how we can play the nonviolent game of political chess that might just save the lives of our children.
Donna Cooper is the executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY).