Lifestyle

Child Focus: Children exposed to gun violence

By Gloria Freeman

The Second Amendment to the Constitution allows the freedom to bear arms in the United States.

The steadfast way in which a vast number of Americans advocate to protect this right is unrivaled in our republic. Just the mere thought that the right to bear arms could be stricken from our land sends a myriad of well-meaning folks into a tailspin, while spurring money contributions to explode, all paid to the order of gun ownership advocacy groups.

While the right to bear arms is now a fait accompli in our nation, I wonder what rights children have to free themselves from the trauma that is often inflicted on them as victims of the gun violence that plagues our neighborhoods, cities and communities.

What would happen if our children had advocates that fought as hard for them as gun ownership advocates fight for the right to bear arms?

Last weekend in Chicago alone, 54 persons were the victims of gun violence. Here in the Twin Cities, we know infants and toddlers have recently been caught in the lethal crosshair of gunfire while innocently riding in car seat or at home, asleep in the bed.

When a child is slain by a gun, we understand that child to be an obvious victim of gun violence. However, we often forget that the surviving siblings of children who are killed, or children who have family members who are murdered, are as much the victims of trauma, which can have long-lasting, horrific effects on gun violence survivors.

Subsequently, a question begging for an answer is, what rights do our children have to be protected from the trauma associated with folks who abuse the right to bear arms, and it’s devastating aftermath, in the U.S.?

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), “From infancy through adolescence, the body’s biology develops. Normal biological function is partly determined by environment. When a child grows up afraid or under constant or extreme stress, the immune system and body’s stress response system may not develop normally. Later on, when the child or adult is exposed to even ordinary levels of stress, these systems may automatically respond as if the individual is under extreme stress.”

Children who are exposed to gun violence often can’t help but to feel afraid at every turn.
Is it any wonder why we have so many children who feel unsafe and uncared for in our midst?

The NCTSN rounds up its report by stating, “Having learned that the world is a dangerous place where even loved ones can’t be trusted to protect you, children are often vigilant and guarded in their interactions with others and are more likely to perceive situations as stressful or dangerous.”

When these feelings of fear and instability are triggered in child victims of trauma, left untreated, a vicious cycle of chronic and recurrent medical and psychological effects can occur, along with the potential for re-victimization and even greater harm.

We constantly hear about the right of U.S. citizens to bear arms. But, who is fighting for the rights of the most vulnerable among us who are often victims of gun violence run amok?
When many of us were growing up, our caregivers often told us that when we violated a right we had, that right was often amended or taken away.

Why doesn’t this same thinking occur when dealing with our right to bear arms? Why do the same gun ownership rights prevail when it is clear that we are unable to handle such rights without negatively infringing on the rights of others?

I understand the sacred nature of the Second Amendment and how the right to bear arms has been enshrined in American culture. But, what about the rights of our babies to not be exposed to a world that is constantly sullied with unnecessary family and community trauma?

During the last few years, the recognition of how trauma plays a role in our lives has been growing exponentially. We now recognize that mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and neighbors of gun violence victims can experience the same level of trauma as the person who is actually shot.

For our babies’ sake, the conversation in America needs to be equally about the rights of those who are adversely affected by people who abuse the right to bear arms, not just the rights of those who want to freely be able to lock and load.

1GloriaGloria Freeman is president and CEO of Olu’s Center, an intergenerational childcare and senior day program, and can be reached at gfreeman@olushome.com.

September 1, 2016
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