Guns kill. In many cases, guns kill our children. Sometimes the guns are fired by other juveniles, often by acquaintances or family members. This Bulletin, drawn from Juvenile Offenders and Victims: 1999 National Report, provides an overview of the national statistics that show the devastating impact that the availability of guns has had on the lives and well-being of American youth.
While other types of homicide remained constant, the number of juveniles killed with a firearm increased greatly between 1987 and 1993. A close look at the numbers shows that the rise in murders of juveniles from the mid-1980's through the 1993 peak year was all firearm related, as was the subsequent decline in juvenile murders that occurred between 1993 and 1997.
Guns play a large role in suicides as well. Families, teachers, and friends have virtually no chance to reach out to youth in desperate need of help when that desperation is signaled by the immediate and often fatal impact of a gunshot wound. Statistics show that for every two youth age 19 or younger murdered in 1996, one youth committed suicide. The rate of youth suicides involving a firearm increased 39% between 1980 and 1994, and although firearm-involved suicides declined 19% from 1994 to 1996, these numbers are still much too high.
Despite these sobering statistics, it is important to remember that there are steps we can take to make our children and our communities safer. In fact, a number of communities have made progress in countering the threat of gun-related violence by bringing together law enforcement, elected officials, prosecutors, judges, schools, community organizations, and citizens to develop their own comprehensive, strategic violence prevention plan. The experiences of these communities are described in the OJJDP publication Promising Strategies To Reduce Gun Violence. This OJJDP Report provides a wealth of practical information and tools that communities can use to develop their own firearm violence reduction programs.
The recent decline in firearm-related juvenile homicides and suicides is encouraging and reinforces the need to remain vigilant in keeping handguns and other weapons out of the hands of children. Rational gun control policies, community involvement in schools, better relationships between law enforcement agencies and communities, support for parents in supervising and disciplining their children, and help for teens in despair are all approaches that we can use in our efforts to reduce the illegal use of firearms by juveniles.