In the United States, firearm violence is the third leading cause of death and the second leading cause of injury-related death among 0-17-year-old children; boys account for 82% of all firearm deaths among children, and those youth aged 13-17 have a firearm injury rate that is 12 times higher than that of children below aged 13 . In 2016, approximately one out of every three US households contained a firearm; only 46% of these gun owners stored their guns safely, and almost 40% of these homes had children under the age of 18 . While firearms related to 74% of all homicides during 2015-2016, they were the cause of death in 87% of all youth homicides; firearm deaths have shown a recent increase in frequency, with the highest rates measured in large metropolitan areas .
Without understanding or considering the underlying circumstances that contribute to gun violence, policy makers are unable to effect change. The World Health Organization declared firearm violence a public health epidemic in 1996. The International Network of Epidemiology in Policy has presented convincing evidence that gun violence can be studied using very similar methods for studying how disease spreads . The Forum on Global Violence Prevention workshops have presented findings that show the transmission of violent behavior mimics the transmission of a contagious disease . Framing gun violence as a public health issue and studying it through an epidemiology framework allows researchers to plan effective interventions that have decreased gun violence in inner-cities and war-torn nations around the world .
Cure Violence utilizes this epidemiological approach to reducing gun violence. It is ranked first among global violence prevention NGOs and is responsible for the reduction of shootings and killings around the US and other parts of the world. Using proven public health methods for preventing the spread of disease, Cure Violence helped reduce gun violence by 40-70% in parts of Chicago, up to 63% in parts of New York, and 50% in the city of Loiza, Puerto Rico .
Along with the public health approach, a team of mentors known as Credible Messengers have proven pivotal to the success of many community-based interventions for preventing inner-city gun violence. Credible messengers are men and women who have been through the justice system and turned their lives around. They are hired and trained in professional techniques to reach and engage youth who otherwise would not trust traditional authority figures such as law enforcement or social workers .
The American Psychologist publishes research on gun violence at the individual and community levels of society to understand the characteristics and circumstances of those who must resort to using firearms. According to the data, there are two categories of interpersonal gun violence, street shootings and rampage shootings. Street shootings are far more common, but ultimately under-reported due to reasons such as community distrust of police and lack of broad societal commitment to poor neighborhoods of color  . Rampage shootings happen significantly less often than street shootings; however, they are more widely publicized than street shootings. While youth violence is a complex issue, improving family interaction, effective parenting, and school climate has been shown to protect children against violence and victimization; likewise, reducing children’s access to guns helps protect children against gun violence .
Suicide by firearms contributes significantly to childhood deaths annually in the United States. Firearms are the most lethal means of attempting suicide; as such, they pose a significant factor to the increase in the rate of completed suicides. In states with the highest youth suicide rates, 52% of homes had firearms. In states with the lowest suicide rates, 20% of homes had firearms . Suicide attempts are often impulsive acts that can signal a child’s need for professional help to work through his or her troubled circumstance . When a firearm is used to attempt suicide, there is likely no chance left to help the youth after the fact.
For policy to be truly effective at preventing youth gun violence, the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy insists that lawmakers consult the evidence being collected on the root causes of gun violence, rather than depend on national dialogue and public debates of the issues . For instance, the public often believes that individuals with psycho-social difficulties and other mental illnesses are most likely to be violent; however, a look at scientific data reveals that between 2001 and 2010, less than five percent of the 120,000 gun deaths that occurred were perpetrated by those with mental illness .
The evidence supports a more complex story; only some individuals experiencing serious mental illness at certain traumatic times (such as right before or right after hospitalization) are at an increased risk of using a firearm on themselves or others . Other research has uncovered factors such as history of violence, perpetration of domestic violence, and substance abuse that contribute to an individual’s increased likelihood of using a gun, regardless of whether or not that individual is mentally ill . These findings point to a need for more evidence-based policy for regulating when individuals with or without mental illness can and cannot access firearms.
The Justice Tech Lab researched the effects of curfew laws in Washington DC using sensors designed to detect the time and location of gunfire. Contrary to the intended effect of the law to decrease gun violence by keeping potential offenders indoors, evidence showed the curfew law correlated with a 150% increase in gunshots during curfew hours . The researchers hypothesized that a decrease in bystanders and potential witnesses, due to the mandatory curfew, led to offenders having more opportunity to use guns. Evidence-based research has also supported the use of data mining and social media profiling for interrupting inner city gun violence; however, it is imperative that future research be coupled with technological advancements to ensure this practice does not unfairly target certain youth, or falsely identify potential offenders before making appropriate policy.
Just as policy efforts should be informed by research evidence, law enforcement too has found success with implementing evidence-based practices to reduce youth gun violence. During the late 1990’s, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) commissioned experts to research ways of reducing gun violence nationwide. By using problem-oriented policing, scientific analysis, and inter-agency efforts, the program in Boston contributed to a 63% decrease in monthly rates of youth homicides . Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) also advocates problem-oriented policing for local law enforcement agencies to focus their efforts on specified problems in scientific and systematic ways .
While problem-oriented policing shows promise toward effectively reducing youth gun violence, it is not without potential for a unique set of issues during implementation. Since this method of police work often involves multiple agencies, each with their own schedules and methods of practice, it is important to reach consensus on solutions and strategies. The NIJ efforts in Atlanta failed to make a meaningful impact on youth gun violence due to problems with consensus, strategy, and consistency in implementation . When compared with traditional policing methods in St. Louis however, problem-oriented police strategies were shown to be significantly more effective in getting guns out of the hands of juveniles .
The United States has the highest rate, per capita, of firearm-related deaths among all industrialized nations; an average of 5 children died per day in 2016 alone . Amnesty International declares that the data indicates a human rights crisis and suggests several human rights treaties signed and/or ratified by the US are not being honored . Ongoing research and continued evaluation of problem-oriented policing strategies, technological advancements in censors and AI, as well as evidence-based intervention programs are necessary if the US is to develop policies and enforce laws that have the best chance of protecting the nation’s youth by reducing the spread of this epidemic.
Youth Gun Violence Prevention Topics
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