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Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002

Youth, Guns, and Violent Crime
Alfred Blumstein

Summary

Young people are overrepresented as both victims and perpetrators of violence. Indeed, some commentators have suggested that recent cohorts of youth have been composed of "superpredators" who have little regard for human life. The evidence, however, suggests that other factors are responsible for recent increases in youth gun violence.

This article analyzes the extent and causes of youth violence in the United States, paying particular attention to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when rates of homicide and robbery committed by youth rose to extremely high levels. Examination of trends for these crimes shows that:

  • The increase in violence in the United States during the late 1980s and early 1990s was due primarily to an increase in violent acts committed by people under age 20. Similarly, dramatic declines in homicide and robbery in recent years are attributable primarily to a decline in youth violence.

  • The increase in youth homicide was predominantly due to a significant increase in the use of handguns, which converted ordinary teenage fights and other violent encounters into homicides.

  • Several other interrelated factors also fueled the rise in youth violence, including the rise of illegal drug markets, particularly for crack cocaine, the recruitment of youth into those markets, and an increase in gun carrying among young people.

The author points out that youth violence diminished as the crack markets shrank, law enforcement increased efforts to control youth access to guns, youth gun carrying declined, and the robust economy provided legitimate jobs for young people.