Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002
Public policy efforts to reduce gun-related deaths and injuries among youth often meet resistance from those who cite education as the key to "gun proofing" children. However, behavioral approaches to reducing firearm violence—programs to change the behaviors of parents and children regarding guns—rarely have been evaluated, and those that have been have not demonstrated great success. Though well-intentioned, many of these approaches are poorly designed, and some may even have the inadvertent effect of making the problem worse. Nonetheless, politics, legal considerations, and an intuitive sense that behavioral programs work ensure their continued use.
One explanation for the failure of behavioral programs may be found in research examining the prevention of injury and violence in general. According to this research, injury prevention efforts can be classified along a passive–active continuum, from eliminating hazards from the environment (passive) to teaching safe behavior (active). Passive prevention efforts require no effort at all on the part of individuals (for example, choosing not to own a firearm). Some active efforts require a one-time behavior (such as placing and keeping a trigger lock on a gun); others require a moderate amount of effort (such as locking up a gun after each use); and still others require constant effort (such as supervising children). Researchers agree that the more effort a prevention strategy requires, the more difficult it is to implement.1,2 Modifying the behavior of parents or children is thus more difficult than modifying the environment or the firearm itself. (See the article by Teret and Culross in this journal issue.)
Drawing upon lessons learned from general injury and violence prevention research, this article examines behavior- oriented approaches to reducing youth firearm injury and violence. First, it briefly describes community-based interventions that focus on reducing youth gun violence. Second, the article explores working with parents to reduce children's unsupervised access to guns, and it assesses two approaches toward modifying parents' behavior concerning gun ownership and storage. Third, it examines developmental considerations and difficulties in working with children and assesses several child-based approaches to reducing youth firearm violence. The article concludes with recommendations for improving educational approaches to reducing youth gun violence—and cautions that no matter how well such programs are designed, their ability to keep children safe from gun violence may be limited.