Last year, 3,338 young Americans were injured or killed in gun violence, including homicides, suicides, and accidents. A gun control advocacy group just published a devastating yearbook featuring just some of those kids, all younger than 17, who never got to make it to their high school graduation.
"Akeal was 14 when he was shot and passed away from his injuries on his 15th birthday," the yearbook says below a photo of Akeal Christopher.
"Brooklyn did not get the chance to attend high school, but enjoyed many things about high school. She was a perpetual honor roll student. She was willing to share her ideas and knowledge for the benefit of others, so that they could accomplish more in their lives," the book reads, next to a photo of 13-year-old Brooklyn Mohler.
"Beejay loved to ride bikes, skateboard and did very well in school, making honor roll in criminal investigation and during his senior year. He attended many rugby games to support his friends on the team. On the night he passed 100 people came to the hospital. He was just coming into his own," reads the year book, next to a photo of 17-year-old Alphonza C. Bryant III, or "Beejay" as his friends and family knew him.
Gun violence results in the deaths of more than 2,500 kids every year and is one of the leading causes of death for teens of color. Black Americans are more than twice as likely as white Americans to die as a result of gun violence, The Washington Post reported in 2014. New Yorkers Against Gun Violence's yearbook gives us some sense of how much lost potential that adds up to, humanizing those statistics.
The group, which has around 11,000 members, is using the project to urge people to sign a petition for universal background checks before a gun is sold to any buyer. The petition reads:
In 38 states it is legal to buy a gun without undergoing a criminal background check. The vast majority of gun offenders obtain their guns from private sellers where background checks are not required.
States with universal background check laws have 48% less gun trafficking, 38% fewer deaths of women shot by intimate partners, and a 53% lower gun suicide rate than states without these laws.
President Obama has gone some way toward supporting tougher screening for gun purchases: in January, he announced measures that aim to close the loophole that's lead to guns being sold without background checks at gun shows and online. But his measures stop short of explicitly requiring universal background checks for anyone in any state or online trying to buy a gun. An overwhelming majority of Americans, polls have shown, support universal background checks for gun purchases.
"A gun is a lethal product designed to kill, especially a handgun is designed to kill human beings," said Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director of NYAGV. "And we believe we should try to keep it out of the hands of people who shouldn't have it—people who have anger issues, who have mental health problems, who are domestic abusers, who are violent criminals, children."
Gunn Barrett said that while some states have pushed through background check laws and other restrictions on how people obtain and use guns in recent years, it's still too easy for guns to be bought and carried across state lines. "If you don’t have background checks, there’s nothing stopping a career criminal or gun traffickers from buying as many guns at they want, as much ammunition as they want, transporting it to a state like New York and selling it on the streets of Brooklyn or the Bronx," she said.