April 2009

Meet Our Featured Guest Columnist:
Niko and Theo Milonopoulos

founded Kidz Voice-LA and Vox Populi after a series of shootings in their North Hollywood neighborhood. They encourage young people to get involved in the prevention of gun violence, have led marches and rallies, and have testified at legislative hearings. In 2007, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a bill they drafted which requires that gun dealers post warning labels on storefronts and sales receipts highlighting the risks of having a gun in the home.

Q: What does "health and human rights" mean to you?

A: Health and human rights are the basic building blocks of our world community. They are pervasively intertwined: the physical, emotional and behavioral well-being of any child, woman or man is a necessary prerequisite for exercising our most cherished rights and freedoms just as basic guarantees of human rights ensure that all people - regardless of race, income or origin - are provided equal access to healthcare services. Health and human rights guarantee that we live in a safe, vibrant society free from the threats of violence, poverty, and disease.

Q: How did you become involved in gun violence prevention?

A: Our motivations were driven by fear: in 1997 Ennis Cosby, the son of comedian Bill Cosby, was shot just a few blocks away from our elementary school, and just weeks later two bank robbers wielding assault rifles terrorized our community in a forty-five minute standoff with police in North Hollywood. Schools were placed on lockdown, storefronts were shattered, and fourteen victims were wounded in a community devastated by violence.  

As school shootings began to erupt across the country, we decided that we could not simply stand by as other kids our age gunned down their fellow classmates. In 1998 we formed Kidz Voice-LA and began circulating a children's petition calling for a ban on the sale of gun ammunition in the City of Los Angeles. After collecting 7000 signatures, we successfully encouraged the Los Angeles City Council to introduce the proposal. The ammunition ban gained the support of the Los Angeles Police Chief, the Board of Police Commissioners, and the Los Angeles City Council Public Safety Committee. The Los Angeles City Council considered the proposal before it fell just three votes short of passing.

Undaunted by this setback, we continued our work, proposing and lobbying for other local initiatives in Los Angeles including a ban on .50-caliber sniper rifles and a resolution supporting the renewal of the federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. In 2003, we testified before the California State Senate Education Committee in favor of a bill encouraging California high schools to incorporate gun violence prevention education into their health class curricula. The bill passed both houses of the state legislature but was vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

In 2006 we launched Vox Populi, an organization that builds on the work of its affiliate by empowering youth with the tools necessary to seek legislative solutions to gun violence.  Through Vox Populi we were invited by the White House to participate in President Bush's Conference on School Safety convened on October 10, 2006, to discuss solutions to a recent rash of school shootings. We also successfully persuaded the Los Angeles City Council to pass a law requiring warning labels be placed in gun storefronts and on sales receipts warning about the risks of keeping a gun in the home.

Q: Which gun violence prevention projects have been the most satisfying for you to work on? Why?

A: Testifying at legislative hearings, organizing rallies, speaking at conferences, and writing opinion pieces, we have encountered far more setbacks than victories, far more disappointments than celebrations. But at even the most frustrating moments, even after the most disenchanting experiences, we are reminded that whatever obstacles we face, the victims of gun violence whom we have sought to protect will never have the same opportunities we have had to learn at a place like Stanford, to question the assumptions of our policymakers, to develop the physical and emotional strength that we never thought we would have.

Working with parents and siblings who have lost their children, brothers or sisters to gun violence has been by far our proudest accomplishment. We are honored to be working alongside them to ensure that no family has to endure the pain gun violence can cause.

Q: Why is it important for young people to become involved in health issues like preventing gun violence?

A: The physical harm and emotional trauma endured by victims and their families makes gun violence one of the most devastating public health epidemics ravaging this country.  According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nearly eight children a day are killed by gun violence in the United States. The shooting tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007 only underscores the extent to which more traditional health issues like mental health and physical harm are interconnected. Gun violence puts a strain on emergency room physicians, state healthcare costs and rehabilitation centers not to mention the impact a single bullet can have on each life, family and community. We cannot allow this epidemic of tragedy to continue.

Q: How can young people make a difference?

A: Never be afraid to stand up for what you believe in, even if you have to stand alone. The courage of your convictions will stand strong against any adversity. As some of the most privileged young people in our world, we must use our talents, our leadership and our passion to change the world. If you love to play basketball, serve as a coach for disadvantaged youth. If you like science and biology, raise money for or help research the cures of some of the world's most debilitating diseases. Cultivate your passion and change the world in the process.

Q: Your message?

A: We want to form a broad, national coalition of young people to take a stand against gun violence.  If you are interested in joining our campaign, please contact us:

Niko and Theo Milonopoulos
Co-Founders, Vox Populi and Kidz Voice-LA
P.O. Box 11080
Stanford, CA 94309
(323) 301-5707