An Urgent Call to Action: Curbing Violence in America

83. That is the number of Americans who die from gun violence each day. Unfortunately, it has taken the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn. last week for our nation to truly grasp that we have a gun problem.

From the massacre at Columbine High School and the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., to the attack on moviegoers in Aurora, Colo., and now to Newtown, Conn., our country has seen too many mass shootings. But the sad truth is this type of violence takes place on a regular basis in cities across America. Just last month 192 shootings took place in Chicago, Illinois.

We have witnessed far too many tragedies in our communities and country to remain silent and do nothing. Addressing the causes of these tragedies is complex and multi-faceted, but this work must involve effective gun control policies that serve to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

There are many other costs to gun violence besides the tragic loss of life. The impact of these events leaves communities in turmoil, searching for refuge and tools to to rebuild. As if the shattered psyche of families and communities is not enough, the financial burden of gun violence weighs just as heavily on cities. Along with widespread depreciation of property value in cities, gun-related violence costs calculate to $5 billion annually in America. Of these gun-related incidents, 85 percent of people involved do not have health insurance. This leads cities and communities around America to face the difficult decision to cut valuable social resources and institutions, such as closing city hospitals, to be able to address the costs they incur.

The NAACP has worked for decades to bring an end to gun violence on the national level by advocating for closing the gun show loopholes, which allow individuals to skip the required background checks for purchasing firearms; by supporting the passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993; and by calling for the reenactment of the ban on assault weapons which expired in 2004.

And across the country, local NAACP branches have played leadership roles in conducting education workshops on gun violence and even coordinating gun buyback programs with local law enforcement.

Now, as we mourn the loss of 20 innocent children and six heroic educators, our nation must come together, act to address this issue, fight for the measures that are needed to curb the trajectory of gun-related violence and deaths. We must ensure that we never bear witness to another travesty like the violence across Chicago and in Newtown.

The crisis of violence in America is one that has historically disproportionately impacted communities of color. In fact, Black males between the ages of 15-19 are almost five times more likely than their White peers and more than twice as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed by firearms. And the number of Black children and teens killed by gunfire since 1979 is 39,957 -- more than ten times the number of Black citizens of any age lynched throughout American history (3,437). Hence, this is an issue with which the NAACP has grappled for over a century.

Yet, the impact of the violence epidemic in America is not contained to any one community. Since 1979, gun violence has ended the lives of 107,603 children and teens in America: sixty percent of them White, thirty-seven percent of them African American. And as the recent shooting incidents show, unless we are willing to take meaningful action to create change in our policies and in our culture, it could happen to anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

Last Friday's massacre in Newtown should serve as a wakeup call to us all, irrespective of political views. It should warn us that unless we work together to address the complex root causes of violence in this nation and recognize that implementing sensible gun control policies must be a major part of this effort, we will continue to see innocent people - men, women and children -- senselessly sacrificed for our inaction.