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

Children, Youth, and Gun Violence: Analysis and Recommendations
Kathleen Reich Patti L. Culross Richard E. Behrman


Guns are unique weapons, highly lethal, and easily available. Their use by and against children and youth has exacted an enormous toll on American society. The economic costs associated with youth gun violence have been estimated in the billions of dollars. But the most significant costs—lost lives or diminished futures for children and youth affected by gun violence—are probably incalculable. The federal government and state governments, working in partnership with local communities and parents, should adopt a unified, comprehensive strategy for reducing youth gun violence in the United States.

Precedent exists for such a broad injury prevention strategy. Over the past 40 years, Congress, federal agencies, public health practitioners, and law enforcement professionals have worked together in a systematic effort to reduce motor vehicle deaths and injuries.92 The approaches they have adopted include: national data systems that track all motor vehicle fatalities; federal safety standards for motor vehicles and equipment; federal and state requirements for driver training and licensing; strict enforcement of motor vehicle laws, especially against drunk driving; federal, state, and private-sector investment into research to improve motor vehicle safety and treatment of injuries; and extensive public awareness activities. As a result, the federal government estimates that 243,400 lives were saved between 1966 and 1990.93

Obviously, the task of reducing gun injury and death poses different and perhaps more difficult challenges than reducing motor vehicle injury and deaths, most of which are unintentional. Still, the motor vehicle example points to what is lacking in youth gun violence prevention efforts. As yet, no broad national consensus exists on how to approach the problem. There is no broad-based commitment to a wide range of strategies that will reduce unsupervised youth access to and use of guns.

There needs to be. Without more concerted efforts to reduce youth gun violence, children and youth will continue to die, unnecessarily and senselessly, from gunshot wounds. A national campaign against youth gun violence should be strongly grounded in research, and should encompass the broad range of strategies recommended in this journal issue. Such strategies should include promoting parental monitoring and safe gun storage; strengthening community norms against gun violence; implementing creative collaborations between law enforcement and communities; regulating guns as consumer products; and tightening federal and state laws regarding gun sales.

Common ground often proves elusive on an issue as polarizing as gun violence. Both gun control and gun rights advocates surely can agree, however, that it is unacceptable for the United States to have a higher rate of gun-related deaths and injuries to children and youth than all other industrialized nations combined. Hopefully, that point of agreement can serve as the foundation for aggressive efforts to reduce youth gun violence in the United States.