"Measure the void." That was the mission of student reporters from across the country who spent the past months writing obituaries for every child and adolescent killed by gun violence in the year since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That they succeeded - and in such heartbreaking detail - should serve as a rebuke to elected officials in Washington and state capitals who failed to enact gun-safety laws that could save lives.
The extraordinary reporting project, "Since Parkland," tells the stories of 1,200 young Americans who died as a result of gun violence in the year after the Parkland mass shooting in which 17 people, 14 of them students, were killed. The 200 teenage journalists who helped conceive the project last summer said they were frustrated with media coverage that focused on mass shootings but ignored the chronic gun violence that too many children face every day in their own neighborhoods.
The students, supported by the Trace, a nonprofit news outlet devoted to gun violence, and other organizations, chronicled lives lost to armed domestic violence, stray bullets, drug homicides, neighborhood beefs and unintentional shootings. They went beyond the statistics to tell human stories.
Such as: Amauri Green, 16, an "occasionally silly teenager who liked to crack jokes," who was killed while changing a flat tire. Ke'Anthony Terez Jelks Jr., 2, "so playful, so joyful, [so] fun," and killed when he mistook his father's gun for a toy and shot himself in the face. Jamie Marie Kernop, 17, "talented gymnast and a carefree spirit," fatally shot in a home burglary. Londyn Faith Strawn, 6, "gymnast, artist, and proud mom of her new puppy, Buttercup," who was shot to death by her grandfather, along with her mother and grandmother. The list of dead goes on - and it does not even include the estimated 900 to 1,000 young victims of gun suicides.
And so, once again, the question must be asked: How many more lives must be lost before sensible laws are enacted to combat gun violence? The House Judiciary Committee this last week passed a measure that would require background checks for all gun sales and most gun transfers. The action, coming just days before Friday's mass shooting in Aurora, Illinois, in which a gunman killed five people, was the most significant gun-control legislation to advance in Congress in years, and its chances for approval in the Democratic-controlled House are good. Pitifully, its prospects are far different in the Republican-controlled Senate.
That same political dynamic is also, unfortunately, likely to doom other needed gun law reforms, including a bill introduced this last week by Senate Democrats for a ban on high-capacity gun magazines. But those who favor sensible gun laws can draw some hope and inspiration from the energy and passion of young people such as those responsible for "Since Parkland" who are determined to write a new ending to America's story of gun violence.
This column appeared in Sunday's Washington Post.