Gun Violence amongst Teenagers in the United States
On several occasions, teenagers in the United States have been involved in violent crimes as perpetrators, victims or witnesses (David & Simon, 2014). Violent crimes involve a deliberate use of physical force or power against another person group or community, which may result in injury, death, psychological harm or material deprivation. In this context, teenage gun violence refers to the deliberate use of a firearm by minors to intimidate or harm others. A teenager becomes a victim of gun violence when they are injured or killed as a result of an altercation with someone possessing a gun. The present analysis will focus on the issue of gun violence among teenagers in the United States and the different policies that are meant to curb gun violence among minors. Generally, firearm violence is one among the escalating threats to the health of the youth in the United States. Many youths lose their lives in gun incidences annually, some of them in mass shootings. Survivors of such shootings are often rushed to emergency rooms, only to survive with permanent injuries. Gun violence as a cause of death among the youth has become prevalent when compared to diseases, coming in second after motor accidents. In certain demographics, deaths resulting from gun crimes among the youth exceed any other cause.
Teenage Gun Violence in the United States
The latitude of the issue of gun violence in the United States is mirrored by several occurrences and pervasiveness of gun-related homicides, suicides and non-fatal injuries in the young population. Every year, there are approximately 33,000 gun-related demises in the United States, and youths who are 24 years and below make up about 20 percent of that figure (Kochanek et al., 2016). Minors who are not injured or killed by guns but witness gun violence are more likely to go through antagonistic consequences later in life (Finkelhor et al., 2015). Despite the fact teenager mass shootings tend to be the focus of national news stories, they only account for less than 0.5 percent of gun deaths annually in the United States (Luca, Malhotra & Poliquin, 2016). Several youths also become victims of manslaughter cases in which guns were used as murder weapons. Other cases that involve youth are gun suicides. Yet another form of teenage violence in the United States is community gun violence whereby minors face the risk of being directly involved in gun violence through victimization or commission. The increased rates of these mass shootings in schools, for instance, the incident that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary caught public attention. In response to the increased rates of mass shootings over the years, a number of theories have emerged to expound on the causes of these heartbreaking happenings. Many people have argued that increased rates of high school bullying, accessibility of guns, psychological illness, ferocious movies and video games have played a major role in triggering. Despite the fact that mass shootings may seem to be absolute and clear; however, few arguments have been developed to explain school rampage shootings in a convincing manner. The most prevalent solution in reducing the number of school shootings is to reduce the availability of guns. This idea has become so prevalent that it has been deliberated on by government in arguments over gun control.
Furthermore, minors may also be exposed to gun violence within their communities. Minors who witness gun violence go through similar damaging mental and physical strain as youths who have had direct exposure. There are several forms of violence that youths may see in their lives, for instance, attacks, physical abuse, theft and shootings. According to a study by the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, approximately 38 % of children under the age of 17 have witnessed violence within the family or the community in their lifetimes (Finkelhor et al., 2015). Generally, despite the fact that the exposure to gun violence is not as predominant as other forms of communal ferocity, it is a severe traumatic event that many individuals experience in their lives.
School shootings are a relatively new development in the United States. For instance, during the academic year of 2011–12, school-related homicides in the United States accounted for less than 2% of all homicides (Planty & Truman, 2013). Whereas school shootings are uncommon, most violence against minors at school were committed with a gun (Planty & Truman, 2013). According to Kann (2016), white male students are more likely to carry guns when compared to any other demographic. In 2015 there were approximately 220 victims of mass shootings in the United States. These incidences resulted in a total of 140 deaths (Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries, 2016). Bushman et al. (2016) scrutinized the differences of and comparisons between school shooters and street shooters. Generally, the researchers acknowledged that school shooters were mostly white male adolescents from steady, low-crime town suburbs who did not know the people they have slain personally. On the contrary, street shooters live in densely populated neighborhoods with high crime levels and poverty rates. These crimes are more intentional, aiming to hurt or kill the victims.
Risk Factors for Youth Gun Violence
A number of studies suggest that the participation of youths in the most severe forms of violence is strongly associated with the convergence and contact with an individual, family, peers, school and community risk factors. Additionally, these risk aspects are considered to have the ability to escalate the prospect of youth violence. Normally, there are no explicit risk factors or an exact combination of risk elements which can describe a minor who is more likely to involve in violent conduct. Nonetheless, the more a youth is exposed to risk factors within the family, peer pressure, school and community, the greater the possibility of youth violence (Williamson, Guerra & Tynan, 2014). The most commonly acknowledged risk factors include emotional misery, peer delinquency, violence experience, alcohol and substance abuse. Among these risk factors, the most common and constant determinant of youth gun violence is the experience of or an affinity to violence (Shetgiri et al., 2016). Furthermore, the access to firearms enhances the probability of firearm-related violence among the youth.
Exposure to Violence
Risk factors across individual, family, peer, school and community aspects have a cumulative impact which enhances the possibility of teenage gun violence (Mmari et al., 2010). In most cases, events and situational aspects of the environment for instance, at home, community or school have an impact on the advancement of discrete risk factors which account for gun violence. For instance, a large percentage of all U.S. youths are exposed to some form of violence annually (Zimmerman & Posick, 2016). The exposure to violence entails undeviating contact through personal victimization or indirect exposure, which occurs by observing or hearing about the act of violence of a family member, friend or neighbor (Zimmerman & Posick, 2016]. According to Slovak and Singer (2001), there is a substantial link between exposure to guns, shootings and emotional turmoil. Moreover, the experience of violence is interconnected with emotive agony, unease, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In normal circumstances, mental injuries associated with the exposure to violence are overlooked time and time again. Nevertheless, this is always problematic because a history of witnessing or committing violence is the most substantial forecaster of future violent conduct for both these groups. Of course, this does not mean that these individuals are incapable of living well, merely that it accentuates the way they view the world in shades of black or white.
Access and Availability to Firearms
In addition, the experience and commission of violence is directly related to each other (Henrich, Brookmeyern & Shahar, 2005). The difference between rows among the youth and serious forms of violence is the existence of a firearm. Generally, access to firearms is an enabling aspect in violent crimes (Shetgiri et al., 2016). The minors who have witnessed acts of violence in their surroundings are more likely to take part in aggressive conduct like carrying weapons. In these occurrences, violent conduct advances from physical fighting to more lethal methods like the use of a gun. The element which allows teenagers to engage in lethal forms of violence is associated with their access to and the presence of firearms within easy reach in their homes or communities (Williamson, Guerra & Tynan, 2014). Minors who live in homes where guns are not secured properly are more likely to take part in some form of gun violence (Johnson et al., 2010). In the United States, weapons have become noteworthy components in cases of homicide and suicides among minors (Slovak & Singer, 2001). Also, increasing community violence triggers a prevailing fear among the teenagers of being shot, resulting in weapon-carrying for self-defense (Shetgiri et al., 2016). Conspicuously, however, there is a substantial disparity in the effect of risk factors on youths.
There are also psychological and biological features at play among teenagers, for instance, hyperactivity and antisocial behavior, particularly among male youths, which might also result in gun violence. According to Rosario (2008), female teenagers who are exposed to violence are likely not to be affected since they internalize their indications, unlike male youths. Additionally, cases of increased crime rates are more prevalent among African Americans as compared to Whites and Asians. African American youth are more vulnerable to violent conduct as compared to Hispanic teens. This is because they live in neighborhoods associated with high levels of violent crime, triggering them to take part in violent crime (Luthar & Goldstein, 2004).
Protective Factors Against Youth Gun Violence
The resiliency theory asserts that some minors exposed to gun risk factors do not necessarily develop negative, violent behavior as a result of the effect of safeguarding factors. These safeguarding factors involve events, prospects and experiences in the lives of these minors which decrease the likelihood of violence. These factors assist youths in overcoming the damaging impact of risk factors and are significant in protecting against the impacts of risk on effective development (Fergus & Zimmerman, 2005). Parent and school connectedness involves one of the main protective factors for young violence. These two components have been significant in impacting gun violence among teenagers. According to Luthar and Godstein (2004), parental and school connectedness balance the threat of exposure to, and the execution of violence. Through the presence of parents and appropriate supervision, there is a great amount of assistance that is significant in controlling where and with whom youths spend their time, hence reducing the chance of violent experiences (Henrich, Brookmeyer & Shahar, 2005). Moreover, high educational objectives and physical involvement frequently found in schools, for instance the use of weapon sensors enhance the advancement of a safe link to the school environment (Henrich, Brookmeyer, & Shahar, 2005.) However, provided the racial and ethnic differences in these protective factors, a lot of thought should be taken so as to not simplify the attitude towards guarding against acts of gun violence on teenagers.
In general, given the lack of research on risk and protective factors that openly impact gun violence among youth, more focus should be put on research. Determining what features enhance or decline the risk to all forms of gun violence is important for developing empirically based gun prevention strategies. Concentrated prevention of efforts to enhance protective factors such as parental and school connectedness may help in establishing approaches to overcome the devastating effects of risk (Stoddard et al., 2013).
Criminal Justice Policy Making Process on Gun Violence among Teenagers
There are several federal edicts that control gun purchases made by accredited sellers, Like the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 and the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968. These laws establish guidelines focused on the selling of firearms. Under the GCA, entities selling guns are required to have a federal firearm license (FFL). Moreover, regional sales of firearms were constricted to only those traders with FFLs, besides the GCA’s other requirements. There are other regulations that control the selling of firearms in the United States, such as rules barring certain individuals like those sentenced of a felony offense from purchasing firearms. Another guideline involves criminalizing sellers or the transfer a firearm to individuals who are prohibited from having one, demanding that buyers sign a form indicating that they have never been condemned of delinquency or prohibited by decree from acquiring a gun. Nonetheless, there were no regulations in the GCA regarding firearms transfers through private gun owners (Webster & Wintemute, 2015). The GCA also set some age policies and restrictions concerned with acquisition or transfer of handguns and long guns. According to these policies, an individual must attain the age 18 years old to be allowed to purchase a long gun from an accredited gun seller; conversely, there is no age limit for any individual purchasing a long gun from a private seller.
The Youth Handgun Safety Act
The Youth Handgun Safety Act was approved as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1993. This Act was aimed at prohibiting the possession of a handgun or ammunition by a minor. The Gun-Free Schools Act took effect in 1994, and was later amended as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which required schools that were getting federal education funds to implement a policy that mandated expulsion for no less than one year any student who comes to school with a firearm. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was ratified in 1993, creating numerous new requirements and regulations to sell and buy firearms. One of these regulations required a mandatory period of 5 days before an eligible seller or dealer hands over a gun to a buyer. The law also requires obligatory background checks of all individuals wanting to buy firearms from qualified gun dealers. Similar to the GCA, the Brady Act also required background checks for any exchange of possession of firearms made by private gun holders (Webster & Wintemute, 2015). The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was established under the Brady Act to assist in undertaking obligatory background checks. Established in 1998, NICS has completed more than 200 million background checks, with approximately 1.1 million disavowals (FBI, 2014).
State Laws Policies
According to Luca et al (2016), there are around 3,200 gun edicts ratified between 1990 and 2014, comprising of decrees to relax or stiffen gun restraints. According to the state laws, transactions entailing guns take place through two mechanisms, businesses or private sellers. Since federal decrees legalize gun purchases by a licensed seller and not private gun owners, many states have tried to control gun sales by private and unlicensed sellers. Following are descriptions of three types of state laws that govern gun sales made by licensed and unlicensed sellers.
The Permit to Purchase (PTP), which is practiced by 11 states necessitates a permit or license and background checks before buying a handgun from either approved businesses or private sellers, all to reduce the flow of guns to the minors (Crifasi et al., 2015). PTP laws are different in different states. For instance, some states demand that individuals get permits in person, whereas others agree to permits attained online or through other forms like mail (Webster & Wintemute, 2015). Nonetheless, these laws do not directly impact the youth under the minimum age of 21, as specified by the federal law to buy a handgun. Despite the fact that Brady Act necessitates obligatory background checks for all individuals seeking to purchase firearms from accredited gun dealers, sales by private gun owners are let off from this prerequisite. Nevertheless, some states have tried to toughen up Brady background checks (Rudolph et al., 2015). Nearly 17 states and the District of Columbia have approved sterner background checks for private sellers (Rudolph et al. 2015). For instance, in Massachusetts, inhabitants are mandated by law to report all sales, transfers, birthrights and losses of firearms to the Firearms Record Bureau. This decree also carries over private dealings of guns, which prevent guns from being transferred to minors. The Child Access Prevention (CAP) Laws are examples of regulations explicitly motivated to stop the youth from accessing guns. CAP laws criminalize reckless storage of guns (Webster et al., 2004). Since 1981, more than 26 states and the District of Columbia have ratified CAP laws which vary from state to state. It requires the proper stowing away of firearms the violation of which will result in fines, detention or both.
The prevention of gun violence among the youth requires several approaches that address both social, environmental and behavioral components which encourage gun violence. Restricting accessibility to handguns in a child or teenager’s environment is a significant element in this approach. According to Grossman et al (2005), among the factors that have enhanced cases of youth gun violence, an important risk involved unsafe storage practices and the keeping of firearms with loaded ammunition within the reach of minors. Several strategies that reduce accessibility to guns have been proposed.
One of the main approaches involve the public health strategy to prevent firearm violence among the youth, which supports the need for a comprehensive federal firearm injury tracking system that necessitates the identification of demographics and other risk factors, redefining the issue. This system needs to incorporate accurate information on crime events and other contributing factors like emotional and mental issues. Additionally, there needs to be assessment and counseling on parental gun practices like the acquisition of new guns. A change in the delivery style of gun-safety messages needs to be implemented, changing it from solely publicizing information to making parents active participants in encouraging firearm safety practices, which will have a positive impact at home and school. As a result of interconnected personal, domestic and community risk factors as well as a large number of affected youth, gun violence among the youth needs to be viewed as a public health issue (Butkus et al., 2014). Generally, the public health arena is concerned with issues that are associated with major levels of injury and mortality, for example, viruses or diseases in societies and the general public. Additionally, a public health methodology has three significant models, i.e. an emphasis on prevention, a systematic methodology to ascertain risk and patterns along with a multidisciplinary partnership to address the concern. In public health, there are main strategies which generally focuses on the relationships of these three components, the agent of change and the host, who would be the victim of the gun violence in the environment. Despite the fact that justice personnel may be chiefly accountable for the apprehension, tribunal and sanctioning of gun violence criminals affecting the teenagers, implementing a public health methodology to handle the predicament of gun violence provides a leeway to justice policymakers. This also lets experts use a wide-ranging, combined process that can achieve the decrease of other related issues. An example of an initiative triggered by the public health approach is the Shared Framework to Reduce Youth Violence and Promote Well-Being. This involves a collective determination between the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the CDC, intended on focusing and fortifying shared action in decreasing youth gun violence and guaranteeing healthy futures for children and youth. The Shared Framework comprises of a vision statement, values for action and a reasoning ideal indicating the means to accomplish the goals.
Impact of the Policies
There are a few types of research which are being carried out to examine the effectiveness of firearm policies in the United States, both at the state and federal levels. According to Cook and Ludwig’s (2013) research on the bearing of the Brady Act on rates of homicides and suicides, he found out that the law affected 32 states while only 18 states were implementing background checks initially before the ratification of the law. According to Cook and Ludwig findings, despite the fact that firearm linked homicide rates decreased nationwide as a result of the law’s enactment, there was no proven apparent difference in the decrease of homicides between Brady states and non-Brady states. The same applied to suicide rates.
Marvell (2001) studied the effect that juvenile gun possession bans have had on decreasing gun homicides. The research aimed at investigating the outcome of state and federal laws that barred teenagers from owning firearms. The emphasis of the study was on homicides and gun homicides of the youth. The findings proposed that the several edicts regarding teenage handgun prohibitions have had little impact on crime rates, especially on youth gun violence. In relation testate laws, there has been a decrease in homicide rates as a result of controlling possession of firearms among the youth.
It is apparent that cases of teenage shootings and other related gun violence in the United States have been on the rise. The available data on the incidents of gun violence in the United States show just how greatly the youth are affected. The existing data can describe the figures on how many youths are involved in gun violence annually, either through committal, observance or victimization. Nonetheless, the figures cannot give further details as to why the cases of gun violence are so predominant among the youth. One of the main reasons behind this issue is the absence of inquiry focused solely on the causes, connections and magnitude of teenage gun violence. For example, despite the fact that research has studied the risk and protective factors associated with youth gun violence in general, there has been no extensive focus on guns. At times, it is grouped together with other incidences of violence like school or community violence. Some of the information related to the issue of teenage gun violence is apparent. For instance, the exposure to or a history of gun violence and the availability of firearms are all strong indicators. However, there is so many nuances in youth gun violence, which is yet to be known. Detailed and distinct exploration on the occurrence and predictors of teenage gun violence would be significant in advising future policies and programs intended to decrease gun violence concerning teenagers. Some edicts and policies, which have been ratified both at the federal and state levels are aimed at decreasing youths’ access to firearms. Despite the fact that these laws restrict gun access to those under certain age groups, particularly teenagers under the age of 18 and in some cases those under 21 years, there is not much effort with regards to the laws which targets the teenager’s behavior.
Therefore, with more information gathered and analyzed through research more cognizant policies can be designed to efficiently address the matter of teenage gun violence. Additionally, many explicit programs like applying public health methodology have been designed to aim at numerous forms of communal-based aggression, together with teenage gun violence. A good number of these programs have proven to be significant in reducing cases of gun violence. Nonetheless, insufficient research has been conducted to determine the precise influence on teenagers. With escalating cases of teenage gun violence, it slowly goes beyond enacting laws and judicial systems to bar the minors from accessing the firearms, transforming into a joint effort to address the reasons behind the incidents.
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