Last night J.J. Abrams, Kevin Huvane, Conan O’Brien, John Cho, Jussie Smollett and scads of other boldface names joined Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman at the Beverly Wilshire to honor five Los Angeles high school stars at the organization’s Beat the Odds awards. Each student will receive a $10,000 college scholarship and support services from the org at no cost. This is the 25th year of the awards in Los Angeles. I remember two years ago when Edelman (who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King) took the stage at the show following Nelson Mandela’s death and delivered a wonderful, off-the-cuff speech about his life. Last night, she delved into the topic of gun violence. It was so amazing, here it is in its entirety:
“But this is not a happy time altogether. We’re all seeing so much of the killing of children. I’m sick of the guns in this country,” she began. “We have to do whatever we have to do to stop it. After the President Kennedy assassination Dr. King wrote that it was time for our nation to do some soul searching. He said while the question of who killed President Kennedy was important the question of what killed President Kennedy was even more critical. Dr. King believed that this President was assassinated by a morally inclement climate. He said it’s a climate where men cannot disagree without being disagreeable. And when they express dissent through violence and murder, it is the same climate, he said, that murdered Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the innocent six Negro children in Birmingham. Dr. King also said that the undercurrents of hatred and violence were fueled by our cultural embrace of guns. By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim. By allowing our movies and television screens to teach our children that the heroes are the ones who master shooting, the techniques of killing. By allowing all of these developments we are creating an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.
The same whims of hatred and storms of violence and easy access and the fortification of guns Dr. King spoke against killed President Kennedy but also soon, too soon, killed Dr. King. And after Dr. King was assassinated, Robert Kennedy in Cleveland made the following speech and he said, ‘We’ve got to deal with the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.’ The victims combined of black and white, rich or poor, young and old, famous and unknown. No one where he lives can be certain who will suffer from some mindless, senseless action or bloodshed. Yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
Since Robert Kennedy spoke these words, he and over a million and a half Americans have died, women and children and men, from guns. This loss of American lives is more than all the battle casualties in all the major wars in our history. Our greatest enemy does not come from without, it comes from within.
We have got to turn our despair and anger and turn moments of emotional instability into tragic, criminal loss of lives. American children are not exempt. A child is killed or injured by a gun every half hour. American children are 15 to 17 times more likely to die from gunfire than their peers in 25 other industrialized countries combined. We can do better than this. We can love our children more than this. And don’t tell me how many parents the children have lost as well to gun violence. We must do better. We lose more preschool children every year to gun violence than law enforcement officers in the process of doing their jobs. We can do better. And we must do better. We must see how we can begin to tackle and transform this culture of violence, but we also have to begin to do some common sense measures. We’ve got to do some common sense measures to end the slaughter of our children and our families and our parents and the people committing suicide and we can.
We’ve got to retire the NRA as being in charge or our national defense. We’re gonna have to just decide to do it. The first thing we need to recognize is gun violence as the major public health issue that it is. We recognize that with motor vehicle accidents and for a period of time we’re able to put measures in place we need to treat gun violence as the public health issue that it is. We need to challenge the NRA with the research that we need, document all these fatalities and the causes behind them, and we need to have public education campaigns. If you take and intend to keep a gun in the home it’s going to be more likely to be used by someone in that home. But this is the major public health issue of our time and we have got to confront it – it’s out of control and we’ve got to do something about it and we’ve got to get the research open and we have absolutely got to mount a major campaign. The obscenity that guns are the only unregulated consumer product in the nation that kills 30,000 people a year—it is the only unregulated consumer product. We regulate toy guns, we regulate children’s pajamas, and we don’t regulate something that kills a child every half hour.
A country that does not stand up and keep its children safe and keep their parents safe does not stand for anything, and it’s time for us to build that movement to out-lobby the NRA and stay with it as long as we have to do it. But if we don’t do it who is going to do it? I just think America has got to come to her senses. I’m sick of all these slaughters every day, and every week in our country, and I just hope that we will stand up and build that movement and push our elected officials and un-elect them when they vote the wrong way.”