On July 16, 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson was shot and killed in front of her Washington, D.C. home trying to buy ice cream. Makiyah was a rising fifth grader who loved basketball, football, art, and puzzles. She had just opened her front door on her way to the ice cream truck in the courtyard when four young men pulled up in a car and started shooting into a crowd of people enjoying the summer evening. Four people, including Makiyah’s 18-year-old sister, were injured and Makiyah was hit in the chest. Neighbors watched helplessly as her mother screamed and prayed over her dying child still holding the five-dollar bill she’d been given to buy a treat.
An ice cream truck sat outside the church during Makiyah’s funeral as a stark reminder of the childhood innocence and joy shattered by the shooting. Between 2007 and 2016, 156 children and teens were killed by guns in Washington, D.C. compared to two local law enforcement officers killed by guns in the line of duty during that same 10-year period. The Washington Post noted that the day before Makiyah’s murder a 12-year-old boy was shot and injured in the District. On July 4th 11-year-old Ashley Prentice, who once attended the same school as Makiyah, was hit by gunfire during a holiday cookout. She told a reporter, “I was sad because I was like, why me? I always get good grades in school. I’m just a good girl. And I’m like, why me?” Then she heard about Makiyah: “I felt really sad about how her parents could feel because if that was me, I could have been the one dead.”
Makiyah’s friends and family are far from alone. In 2016, 3,128 children and teens were killed by guns in America – more than 8 every day. There were 221 gun victims 10 years old and younger. Another 17,155 children and teens were injured with a gun leaving physical and emotional scars that often last a lifetime. This pervasive everyday gun violence kills children like seven-year-old Taylor Hayes, who died in Baltimore on July 19 two weeks after being shot in the back while riding in the back seat of a car. Taylor reportedly loved reading, dancing, singing and games like Go Fish. It injures children like a nine-year-old girl in Chattanooga, Tennessee left in critical condition on July 22 after being hit in the stomach by a stray bullet during an argument between adults.
Pervasive gun violence terrorizes millions of children forced to go about their everyday lives in neighborhoods where it is a common threat. When six-year-old Florida first grader King Carter was killed by gunfire in 2016 on his way to buy candy, more than 100 children and teenagers had been killed by guns in his county, Miami-Dade, in the previous three years. At King’s funeral family members and friends decorated the church with football goalposts and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures.
Black children and teens are disproportionately affected by gun violence. In 2016, 43 percent of gun deaths were among Black children and teens although they were only 14 percent of all children and teens. That year 1,335 Black children and teens were killed by guns. The gun death rate for Black children and teens was nearly four times that for White children and teens and more than eight times that for Asian and Pacific Islander children and teens.
Between 1963 and 2016, 65,947 Black children and teens were killed by guns — more than 16 times the recorded lynchings of Black people of all ages in the 74 years from 1877 to 1950.
An Urban Institute report points out “exposure to gun violence has been linked to a variety of psychological challenges like anger and dissociation, anxiety and depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It can also affect youth in the classroom, making it difficult for them to concentrate in class and damaging their academic performance and educational or career aspirations.” It noted another study of urban youths which found 42 percent reported having seen someone shot or knifed and 22 percent reported having seen someone killed. Children are dying from gunfire every day and those left behind and often living in fear are suffering deep trauma.
Although Black children are at special risk, shootings at schools and in movie theatres and concerts show no child is fully safe in a nation saturated by guns. The most recent estimate of U.S. civilian gun ownership exceeds 393 million, more than one gun per person. In contrast, U.S. military and law enforcement agencies possess only approximately 5.5 million guns. Although the U.S. accounts for less than five percent of the global population, Americans own 46 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine last year said among high-income nations, 91 percent of children under 15 killed by gunfire lived in the United States. This is insane and indefensible.
Makiyah Wilson’s mother said her youngest child wanted to “conquer the world” but watched a flower-draped horse and buggy carry her daughter’s casket away after her funeral. All because our nation refuses to protect children and to protest guns. What will it take for our nation to stand up and value children more than guns?
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund