Who’s really murdering our children–and why won’t we talk about it?

Who’s really murdering our children–and why won’t we talk about it?

December 19, 2012

President Obama, in the wake of the massacre of 26 children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut’s, Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, says “we are not doing enough to protect our children.” He’s right, far more than he acknowledges.

How can we possibly “do enough” when the president, interests, and media commentators won’t even talk about what the real dangers to our kids are?Here’s a scary fact neither the president nor other commentators will contemplate, because it’s just too unpalatable:

A large majority of murdered American children under age 10 are murdered in violence by their parents.

Not by mass shootings by deranged white gunmen in schools or theaters, not by dark-skinned gangbangers on urban streets, not by bullies or lurking internet predators. A child or teenager under age 18 is 40 times more likely to be murdered at home by their parent or caretaker than at school by a peer (as at Columbine) or outside (as at Sandy Hook) killer.

Put precisely–and this is a critical distinction–what the president and virtually all other commentators are saying isnot that we need to protect our children from being murdered for their sakes, but that we need to protect our parents from suffering a child being murdered by someone else.

Think about how different our discussion of “protecting our children” would be if Obama demanded attention to all tragically slain children.

Some 800 American children and youths under age 10 were murdered in violent assaults by their parents or caretakers in 2011, the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families’ Child Maltreatment report states. An equal number, nearly all infants and toddlers, died from neglect by parents who were too addicted, mentally ill, or uncaring to provide vital care—technically homicides, but not included here.

In 2010, the latest reported year, a total of 1,022 children and young teenagers under age 15 were murdered in the United States, the World Health Organization reports. That is 5 times the total in 5 other Western countries (the United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, and Australia) that have a combined population higher than ours.

Make no mistake, guns are a big problem, Centers for Disease Control tabulations show. Of the American infants, toddlers, grade-schoolers, and middle-schoolers murdered by specified violent means, the largest category, accounting for 22% of homicides, was firearms. Some of these involved mass shootings such as occurred in Newtown’s school, Portland’s mall, and Aurora’s theater.

But even more occurred in homes (“Connecticut teen fatally shot by dad called good kid,” “Massachusetts father shoots children before killing himself,” “Father shot wife, children before killing himself,” month after month). The scores of child victims of gun violence in their own homes every year are another category of child victims we don’t talk about.

The second category is the large majority of children whose murders are do not involve guns, hundreds every year. Far more American kids than those in other Western countries are killed by non-gun violence as well, a large majority at home.

That is the most distressing reality in the “protect our children” discussion: American parents are far more likely to murder their children than parents in other Western countries, and that–not mass shootings, not gun violence in general–is the single biggest reason by far that American children under age 10 suffer greatly elevated risk of homicide. I can’t imagine a politician, an interest group, a media commentator willing to take on that appalling “American exceptionalism.”

We don’t need a narrow discussion that fixates only on “school shootings” and “young people” and “our children.” We need to broaden the debate to all murderous violence, everywhere.

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