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.
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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 ro-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 safely—unloaded and locked, with ammunition stored separately from the guns—the risk to young children could be virtually eliminated.
As previously stated, firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 1-19 in the United States. The 3,042 children and teens killed by gunfire in the U. S. in 2007 is comparable to the total number of U. S. combat deaths in Iraq and four times the number of American combat fatalities in Afghanistan to date. The amount of preschoolers (under age 5) killed by gunfire (85) is more than the number of law enforcement officers (57) killed in the line of duty. (Children’s Defense Fund, pg. 2).
Out of 3,042 children and teens killed by gun? re, another 17,523 suffered non-fatal gun injuries. In addition to the human toll, gun violence among young people imposes significant psychological costs on society. For children and youth, these costs can be especially high; those exposed to gun violence are at risk for significant and lasting psychological effects. Moreover, children do not have to be injured themselves to experience these negative effects. Exposure to gun violence at home, at school, in the community, or through the media all can cause harm.
Some of these affects include posttraumatic stress, poor school performance, increased delinquency, risky sexual behaviors, substance abuse, and desensitization to violence. All of these effects can make children and youth more prone to violence themselves. (Chidren’s Defense Fund, p. 12) However, the children and youth at highest risk for psychological trauma from gun violence are those exposed to it directly: children who are injured, who witness gun violence at close proximity, or who are exposed to high levels of gun violence in their homes, schools, or communities. (Chidren’s Defense Fund, p. 2) A December 2001 study of 119 African American seven-year-olds living in inner-city Philadelphia, for example, found that three-quarters had heard gunfire, one-third had seen someone shot, and one-tenth had someone in their own family or household who had been shot or stabbed. Among children in the study, exposure to higher levels of violence was correlated with more anxiety, greater likelihood of depression, lower self-esteem, lower grade point average, and more absences from school. More than 60% of the children worried that they might be killed or die, and 19% sometimes wished they were dead. Hurt, Malmud, Brodsky, and Giannetta 1351–56) Despite widespread recognition of the psychological costs to children and youth associated with gun violence, physicians and mental health professionals have been slow to develop treatments that help young people cope with gun-related trauma. Even children and youth who are injured often go without psychological help. One group of doctors has observed, “When patients present with suicide attempts, evaluation for future risk and follow-up treatment are considered standard practice.
However, individuals treated for violent injuries generally receive no further evaluation. ”(Christoffel, Spivak, and Witwer 1202–03) Although they are rare, shootings at schools and universities are devastating to families and communities. The last nation-wide known shooting occurred on April 16, 2007. A Virginia Tech student by the name of Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and faculty and wounded 15 more at the University before killing himself. Following the incident, there was an overwhelming response from both sides of the gun control issue.
While the pro-gunners believed that arming the students would help their chances of survival if an attack were to occur, the community and students of Virginia Tech went forward with a “Lie-In” to try to instill stricter gun laws. Despite the efforts towards stricter gun laws on school grounds and campuses alike, there have been at least 60 cases of mass school shootings involving kids and teens since 2007 (Brady). What will it take for us to stop this senseless loss of young lives? Common sense gun laws can make a difference.
States with higher rates of gun ownership and weak gun control laws have the highest rates of firearm deaths of people of all ages. Although polls show that the majority of Americans favor common sense gun control laws that would stem the tide of gun violence, federal and state legislative reform has been difficult to achieve. We need political leaders who will protect our children by enacting legislation to limit the number of guns in our communities, control who can obtain firearms, and ensure that guns in the home are stored safely and securely. (Children’s Defense Fund, p. 6) There is no federal law that specifically allows or prohibits guns on college campuses. According to the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, 26 states prohibit guns on college campuses with the exception of public safety officers. Twenty-three states allow public campuses to determine their own gun policies, with nearly all choosing to be “gun-free. ” Only one state — Utah — currently prohibits college administrators and security professionals from setting rules regarding firearms on campus, thus effectively allowing guns on campus (“Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence”).
No single policy solution will end youth gun violence in the United States; a wide variety of approaches is needed to address different aspects of the problem. Key strategies that may reduce youth gun violence include: reducing unsupervised exposure to guns among children and youth, strengthening social norms against violence in communities, enforcing laws against youth gun carrying, altering the design of guns to make them less likely to be used by children and youth, and, perhaps most importantly, implementing new legal and regulatory interventions that make it more difficult for youth to obtain guns.
Numerous studies document the ease with which youth can obtain guns in the United States. In a 1998 national study of male high school sophomores and juniors, 6% of respondents had carried a handgun outside the home in the previous 12 months. Among the youth who had carried guns, 48% had been given or loaned the gun by a family member or friend. An equal percentage had obtained the gun through an illegal purchase or theft: 35% had bought the gun (of those, 53% bought from family or friends), 5% reported asking someone else to purchase the gun, and 6% had stolen or traded something for it (Sheller, Wright 1994).
Youth can obtain guns illegally from licensed dealers or in private transactions. Although licensed firearms dealers are regulated by the federal government (and by many states) and are required to conduct criminal background checks on all purchasers, some dealers do sell illegally to youth, often by turning a blind eye to “straw purchases”, in which youth ask older acquaintances to buy guns for them. Only a small minority of licensed gun dealers are involved in illegal activity. According to federal statistics, guns sold by 1. % of retailers account for more than 57% of the weapons that are later traced by ATF after being recovered by law enforcement following a crime (“Commerce in firearms in the United States”). At the same time, guns sold by licensed dealers account for only about 60% of the guns sold in the United States. Guns sold by private parties, collectors, and unlicensed vendors at gun shows account for 40% of all gun sales. These sales are not regulated by the federal government, nor by most states. In an unregulated private sale, no background check takes place.
Sellers are not required to keep records of their sales, and they do not even have to ask buyers for identification. Such lax requirements make it easy for youth to obtain guns. Decreasing the availability of illegal guns to youth is an important strategy to de-escalate the violence that plagues many communities, and to reduce the fear and need for self-protection that lead many youth to get guns in the first place. Researcher David Kennedy, who has written extensively about youth gangs and gun violence, has observed, “Many of the kids involved in this life do not really want to live it.
Less readily available weaponry would ease tensions and diminish the deadliness of incidents. ” (Kennedy, 76) Without stronger, sensible gun laws, thousands upon thousands of people will continue to die and be injured needlessly each year. We make it too easy for dangerous people to obtain dangerous weapons. We should make it harder for convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, domestic violence offenders and youth to get the guns in the first place. We can do this by passing strong, effective laws and stopping laws and policies that would allow guns on campuses.
Works Cited Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Brady Campaign, 2011. Web. 9 Dec 2011. . Children’s Defense Fund, Protect Children Not Guns 2010, September 2010 Christoffel, K. K. , Spivak, H. , and Witwer, M. “Youth violence prevention: The physician’s role. ” Journal of the American Medical Association (March 1, 2000) 1202–03. Eron, L. D, and LG Slaby. Reason to hope: A psychosocial perspective on violence and youth . Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 1996. 1–22. Hurt, H. , M. Malmud, N.
Brodsky, and J. Giannetta. “Exposure to violence: Psychological and academic correlates in child witnesses. ” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. (2001): 1351–56. Print. Fowler, Patrick J. , et al, “Community Violence: A Meta-Analysis on the Effect of Exposure and Mental Health Outcomes of Children and Adolescents,” Development and Psychopathology 21 (2009) Kellermann, Arthur L. , “Injuries and Deaths due to Firearms in the Home,” Journal of Trauma (1998) Kennedy, D. Can we keep guns away from kids?
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