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

Behavior-Oriented Approaches to Reducing Youth Gun Violence
Marjorie S. Hardy


Advocacy groups on both sides of the guns issue frequently point to changing personal behavior—of both parents and children—as a key element in reducing gun violence among youth. Efforts to bring about these changes range from community-based campaigns, to laws and programs that encourage parents to store their guns safely, to educational initiatives that focus on keeping young children away from guns and encouraging youth to resolve disputes without violence.

Unfortunately, these behavior-oriented programs have not shown great success in reducing youth gun violence. This article reviews the research surrounding behavioral approaches to gun violence prevention and highlights obstacles that hamper the effectiveness of these programs.

  • Supportive communities can play a key role in protecting youth from violence in general, but the few community-based violence prevention programs that focus on youth have not been shown to decrease youth access to or use of guns.

  • By and large, behavioral programs and legal interventions aimed at parents have not been proven to reduce youth gun violence. This may be due in part to parental misperceptions about children's risk of injury and ability to protect themselves.

  • Children and youth are particularly difficult targets for behavioral change programs. Cognitive immaturity among younger children and perceptions of invulnerability among adolescents may be part of the reason. Most programs that seek to persuade youth to stay away from guns have not been proven effective.

The author concludes that, although behavioral programs could be improved, overall they hold only limited promise for reducing youth gun violence.