Editorial: America needs a Memorial Day for gun-violence victims

A woman, child and man walk among small flags planted at Los Angeles National Cemetery in 2021 for Memorial Day.
Flags were planted at Los Angeles National Cemetery in 2021 in observance of Memorial Day.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Today is perhaps the most somber of all American holidays. Memorial Day is a time to remember our war dead, those in the armed services who gave their lives to protect our nation. Dedicating a day to honor these veterans and mourn their deaths helps remind us of the terrible toll of war.

We don’t want to lose any more people — especially young Americans who have their lives before them — to premature, violent deaths.

These days, we face another war, this one from within our borders. Our violent society, armed to the teeth with guns, has failed to protect children, young adults, employees, shoppers and the faithful attending religious services.


Perhaps it’s the fate of the United States to watch its soul die along with the 19 students and two adults shot to death Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

More than 45,000 Americans died of gun violence and suicide by firearm in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s just 2,000 short of the number of Americans who died in battle during the entire Vietnam War.

Along with our many memorials to our war dead and the victims of the foreign-based terrorism of 9/11, we need a national memorial to our victims of domestic, civilian gun violence. Their names should be before us, observed on a specified day each year, when we remember them and the need to address this enemy in our midst.

The horrific gunning down of 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, has made Americans pay attention, but Education Week, which tracks school shootings, reports that there have been 27 school shootings so far this year that resulted in 27 deaths and 56 injuries. There have been 119 school shootings since 2018, when the publication began keeping track.

Even the killing of 19 children and two teachers in a Texas classroom seems unlikely to spur reform

Guns became the leading cause of death for children 1 and older for the first time in 2020, according to the CDC. Nearly 80% of the intentional killings in this country are by firearm. And a 2014 study by UC San Francisco found that people with ready access to firearms were three times more likely to die by suicide.

Consider the number of people murdered by gunmen at houses of worship over the past several years. Nine Black worshipers killed in a mass hate crime at a Charleston, S.C., congregation in 2015; 26 dead at a Texas church in 2017; 11 killed in an act of antisemitic hate in the 2018 attack at a synagogue in Pittsburgh; one murdered and three wounded in the Poway synagogue shooting in 2019; and the allegedly anti-Taiwanese shooting at a Laguna Woods church this month.

Or the people gunned down at shopping centers, like the massacre of 10 at a grocery store in a largely Black neighborhood of Buffalo, N.Y., this month and the 23 shot to death by a far-right extremist targeting Latino shoppers at a Walmart in El Paso in 2019.

Make no mistake, this is a war — a war on people in this country and on our sense of safety. That’s what terrorism does; it makes people afraid to go about their daily lives.

Combating this enemy starts with acknowledging and facing its constant presence in our midst and the common denominator linking these deaths. We need another Memorial Day in this country, one to remember the victims of gun violence. An official day dedicated to this tragic reality will remind us that firearms take a daily toll in this country, and perhaps move Americans to action.