Youth and Guns: Violence in America
Gun violence in the United States has become an epidemic. From the Civil War to the present, 567,000 Americans have died in combat; but since 1920, over 1 million American civilians have been killed by firearms (Children’s Defense Fund, p.15). For thousands of teens, death from gun violence is the end of the pipeline. In 2007, 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States—eight every day—as a result of homicide, suicide or accidental shootings. Almost six times as many children and teens – 17,523 – suffered non-fatal gun injuries, which have serious physical and emotional consequences. (Children’s Defense Fund, p.3)
Youth violence is a complex problem, influenced by psychological, economic, and social factors (Eron and Slaby, 1–22). The problem is substantially worsened because of the lethality and accessibility of firearms. Guns cause deaths and severe injuries more frequently than knives, clubs, or fists, and with guns, even violent impulses can have lethal outcomes. Guns also are easily available to young people, even though federal law, with a few exceptions, prohibits those under 21 from purchasing handguns and those under 18 from purchasing rifles and shotguns or possessing handguns. Exceptional lethality, combined with easy access, accounts at least in part for the fact that firearm-related injuries remain the second leading cause of death among children and youth ages 10 to 19. Only motor vehicle accidents claim more young lives. ("National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System") Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 19 years in the United States, accounting for 1883 deaths in 2001 ("Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence"). Firearms were used in approximately half of suicides within this age group in 2001; however, as recently as 1994, 7 of every 10 suicides among teenagers involved firearms. (Kellermann, p. 263) Numerous studies have documented a clear association between the presence of firearms in the home and suicides, particularly suicides by adolescents and young adults. One study found that a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a completed or attempted suicide, criminal assault or homicide (7x), or unintentional shooting death or injury (4x) than to be used in a self-defense shooting, contrary to what many pro-gunners believe. The rate of nonfirearm suicides among 5- to 14-year-olds in the United States is roughly equal to the rate in other industrialized countries combined. However, the firearm suicide rate among children in this age group is nearly 11 times higher. As a result, children in the United States commit suicide at twice the rate of children in 25 other industrialized nations combined. (Children’s Defense Fund, p. 101) Unintentional shootings among young people most frequently happen when children or youth obtain a gun and play with it, not realizing that it is real, or loaded, or pointed at themselves or a friend. In 1998, more than 7% of children and youth under age 20 killed by firearms died in unintentional shootings,36 and these shootings accounted for 27% of firearm deaths among children under age 12. Boys, African American children, and Hispanic children are more likely to die in accidental shootings than are other groups of children. The death rate from unintentional shootings among children is nine times higher in the United States than in 25 other industrialized nations combined (Children’s Defense Fund, p. 101). Although accidental shootings of children have declined significantly in recent decades, they still attract a great deal of public attention, perhaps because the victims, and sometimes even the perpetrators, are seen as blameless and the deaths preventable. If guns were not present in the home, if they were designed with safety features making them difficult for children to fire, or if they were stored...
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