Washington Post reporter John Woodrow Cox investigates the effectiveness of gun safety reforms as well as efforts to manage children's trauma in the wake of neighborhood shootings and campus massacres, from Columbine to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Cox’s Children Under Fire: An American Crisis lays bare the human cost of things that cannot be counted when it comes to children and gun violence. Statistics on this issue have become so familiar that many Americans have become numb to the society they describe. On average, one child is shot every hour; over the past decade roughly 30,000 children and teenagers have been killed by gunfire — recently eclipsing cancer as their second-leading cause of death ... These children are the focus of Cox’s book, which makes their lived reality vivid and distressing by concentrating on two who are dealing with trauma after gun violence claimed a loved one ... The other element for which there can be no accounting in this engaging book is trust. Nonfiction of this kind cannot be crafted from a few phone calls and fleeting visits. It comes through an investment, both human and professional, that grants the writer a glimpse into the lives of people at their most vulnerable; they open up only if they feel confident the writer will do their stories justice. Earning their confidence takes time. We see Cox’s investment pay off when he witnesses one of Ava’s tantrums, sparked by her mother asking her not to stand on the couch ... Opting to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, he draws a painful, critical picture of what a society with virtually unfettered access to lethal weapons looks like through children’s eyes instead of lecturing the reader on politics and policy ... this book demonstrates that the most effective riposte to those who fetishize bearing arms is to bear witness.
Children Under Fire explores the effects of gun violence on American children. It delves into gun suicide, campus lockdowns and school security, and other gun-related issues, but at its heart lie the stories of specific children. What comes across with tragic clarity is that kids suffer terrible collateral costs from gun violence — and that suffering is too often overlooked ... Children Under Fire is an important book and should be read by as many people as possible. But I found it hard to read because I really got to like these children, and it is clear that because of a few seconds of gun violence, their life journeys have become difficult and may not be successful. It is also clear that until we as a country begin to protect our children, like adults in every other high-income country protect their children, there will be thousands more Avas and Tyshauns each year whose lives are shattered by our aberrant gun policies.
Children Under Fire examines gun violence in America, focusing on how it is threatening our nation’s children ...Statistics can be mind-boggling; thankfully, Cox doesn’t overload his book with factoids. Yet he includes two stats: during every hour of the day a child is shot; during this past decade, over 30,000 youngsters and teens have been killed by guns ... This narrative strategy brings us close to these children, and to their quests to live normal lives. We learn about the powerful psychological aftershocks of gun violence and about how each child — and their families and communities — struggle to cope with the senseless deaths. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes legions of villagers to heal that child’s traumas. I encourage readers to read Cox’s book, but it troubles me that he piles on detailed evidence without providing sufficiently strong connecting narrative threads. A non-fiction writer should discover through-lines, craft his material as Joan Didion instructs through a comparison to sculpture ... By shaping his documentation and analysis, an author helps readers navigate the book’s themes as they interweave and tighten into an inevitable conclusion. Cox thinks reporting the flow of events – between children and their families, communities, and in the political arena –is enough and that readers will follow along in the same way they take in a newspaper story. But a book calls for a more complicated architecture, a more nuanced dramatic construction ... Children Under Fire has the potential to sway lawmakers to take action on the gun ownership issue and to also implement safeguards that would help stem gun violence.