We are eight days into 2019, and a family in Houston, Texas is coming together for the burial of an innocent child killed by the heartbreaking unfairness of gun violence in this country.
The family of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes held her funeral services on Tuesday. On December 30, Barnes was shot and killed while sitting in the backseat of her mother’s car in what at first, many feared was a racially motivated hate-crime, but is now being considered a case of mistaken identity. A man seemingly out of the blue opened fire on the family’s car, as she, her mother, and three sisters were leaving a Walmart parking lot.
A man by the name of Eric Black Jr., 20, has been named as a suspect along with Larry Woodruffe, 24, in her murder. Both young men are black, despite original reports that the killer may have been an older white male. Racism may not have killed Barnes, as both of the lead suspects turned out to be black like the family, but a gun certainly did.
Last year, 3,493 children were either killed or injured by gun violence, according to the Gun Violence Archive, and 665 of them were 11 years old or younger. Every year, over 3,300 Texans are killed or injured by firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This year alone, at least 50 children have already been killed or injured by guns.
In 2018, there was significant momentum in the conversation around gun violence after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The teenage survivors catapulted the discussion into a full fledged movement.
Their movement forced many lawmakers to take a hard look at their state’s gun laws.
California, for example, passed nearly a dozen gun control laws last year, including raising the minimum age for buying a gun from 18 to 21. (One of Barnes’ killers was 20 years old.) Oregon and New York closed the “so-called” boyfriend loophole, stopping people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from purchasing or owning firearms.
Texas today has some of the country’s most lax gun laws. Gun rights activists are pushing the state is consider constitutional carry, which would permit state residents to carry a gun openly or concealed without a permit. It is legal for someone to purchase a firearm at the age of 18 (or 21 for an AR-15). Background checks are required for federally licensed firearm dealers, but purchasers of handguns are exempt. Texas is not what is considered a “point of contact” state, so they do not conduct their own background checks using both state and federal records. Instead, dealers defer to the FBI. The problem with a federal only background check is that they don’t always account for state records.
Over 200 school districts in Texas also permit teachers to carry guns on campus. This year, it’s projected that Texas lawmakers are going to raise 19 separate gun laws for consideration, including a highly unpopular red-flag law. A red-flag law allows law enforcement and in some cases family members to have their guns seized by a judge if concern for the party warrants so. This law could have potentially prevented Barnes’ murder if the gun was legally obtained and someone flagged the owner to authorities.
In lieu of the suspects being brought in, many activists have been urging on social media to not let this story lose its prominence. Race as a factor being ruled out isn’t how this story should end.
“We often don’t emphasize the death of black and brown children. We all have a role (in) getting justice for any child of gun violence,” the family’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt told CNN.