In the past year 31,000 Americans have been the ultimate victims of gun violence. The Newtown shootings claimed 27 innocents among that total. For each deceased, there are countless 'secondary' victims -- parents, siblings, classmates, teachers, first responders and community members. Much attention has been paid to the assistance, counseling and treatment many of these survivors need, and appropriately so.
Particular attention has been paid to the children. How should siblings and classmates be treated? Should they return to the same school? What counseling do they need? How should parents broach the subject? How quickly should the children return to a 'normal' routine?
For some, the damage may never be repaired. The trauma may affect their psychological outlook, health and personality for a lifetime. The best that can be hoped for may be coping and acceptance. For others, the pain may ultimately subside or even heal. Thankfully, however, it is likely none of the Newtown students will have to endure a similar trauma in their lifetime.
Not so for many children and adolescents who grow up in violent and gun infested urban neighborhoods across the country. As with the survivors of the Newtown shootings, they are among the uncounted victims of gun violence.
Brett Murphy and Lisa Courtney teach at North Grand High School in the Humboldt Park section of Chicago. Shortly after the Newtown incident, they asked their freshman students to write about their "first memory, fear or experience" with gun violence. Shockingly, a substantial majority of their students had suffered through first hand experiences in their lives. Here are two samples of their responses:
I remember the first time I felt fear of guns. It was when I was in the car with my brother and my cousin, some guys passed by next to us and thought my brother banged. They started throwing down gang signs and yelling at him. Once the light turned green we drove off, they chased us and shot at us. That's when I REALLY got scared. I'm used to the other stuff, but when they started shooting all my fear came out, I thought we were going to die.
The first time I experience someone dying was when I was nine or ten years old and one of my friends got shot and killed and seeing him laying in the ground was pretty sad. My first time I had fear of a gun was when I was in my front porch and had two different gangs shooting from one side of the block to the other side.
But there is one significant difference between students at North Grand High and those in Newtown. The experiences the Chicago kids have had will likely not be their only lifetime encounter with gun violence. In actual fact, many of them live in the real and legitimate fear that they may be confronted with another traumatic incident on any given day.
Think for a moment of the psychological effect of that reality -- the impact for a lifetime on the expectations and worldview of a generation of urban youth. How much attention has been given to their struggle? What resources are available to assist them in living with their fear and trauma?
The debate around the subject of gun control is a complex one. But surely there are limits to the rights to gun ownership granted in the Second Amendment. Shouldn't those rights be balanced against the rights of children to grow up in an environment free of the daily fear expressed by the students at North Grand High? Armed guards at their schools aren't going to relieve them of that fear that nags them 24 hours a day.
Hadiya Pendleton, the Chicago teen randomly gunned down after performing at the Presidential Inauguration last month, paid the ultimate price. But what about the damage to her innocent friends and classmates -- damage that will be carried for a lifetime?
All the North Grand students' journal entries have been posted on the web at:
They are well worth reading. If you do, the consequences of continued gun violence for the health and future of our society will be clear. It is time for action.