An estimated 1.2 million elementary aged, latchkey children have access to guns in their homes. During the 1997 — 98 school year, nearly one million school kids (grades six through 12) carried guns to school. And every two hours, an American child is killed by guns. To put this in perspective: If you were to finish reading this book today, say, in the next four to six hours, two or three children will have been killed by guns. But ponder this: If you wait until the following day — some 24 hours from now — to finish this book, by then, 13 children will have been killed by guns. The point is, we are at the crossroads in American history where death by violence is the rhythm beating out our children's lives. Time spent reading a book only peals the hours lost, tolls the lives forever gone.
Nationwide, children find modern life to be a constant grind, with mounting pressures. They are not alone. Their parents, too, find life to be tough with its stresses, and constant in its challenges. The anxieties and pressures under which parents live are unlike any they've previously known. Most parents survived the distressing years of the battered 1990's economy with livable, if marginal, incomes; they cheered when the news media, in the spring of 1999, announced a $1 trillion economic surplus. Gradually, old fears about working all one's life only to die in the poor-house, gave way to renewed faith in the future and one's enhanced capabilities and opportunities to thrive in it. But as parents work harder to earn more in a robust economy, staring them in the face is the fact that the children whose futures they are laboring to establish, are presently dying in ever-growing numbers at the hands of their peers.
Some of the underlying causes attributable to their deaths lie in the "stories" in the statistics released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About one in every 10 children — as many as 6 million youngsters — may suffer from a serious emotional disturbance, such as severe depression, conduct disorder, anxiety disorder, or manic-depressive illness. For some reason, many of these kids traffic in weapons. In 1997-98, 6,000 kids were expelled from the nation's schools for gun possession. Unable to cope any longer with their anxiety and depression, they had simply dragged themselves off to school under the weight of their emotional turbulence — and the family gun. In light of the nation's $1 trillion economic surplus, it might be said about this age, as Dickens remarked about his, that these are the best of times and the worst of times.
But more tragically than even the hapless children in Dickens' books, most of the 103 incarcerated children I interviewed — although they were tried in court and sentenced to prison for committing homicide — were the victims of unseen and undocumented violence, to their spirits as well as to their bodies. Ironically, this violence was largely inflicted by those entrusted with their care: their parents and other caregivers. Adults like you and me.