Saturday, July 5, 2008

Sue Scheff: Teen Gun Violence

“One thing about him—he thought no one would hurt him. He thought, ‘no enemies.’”

– Mickye McGuire-Rush, Gregory’s Mother

Mickye McGuire-Rush sits in her living room and remembers her only son, Gregory. “One thing about him—he thought no one would hurt him. He thought, ‘no enemies,’” she says.

Gregory had no enemies and no protection from random violence. At age 15, he was shot to death by another kid didn’t even know.

“Mistaken identity—Gregory lost his life over something he didn’t even know was going on,” Mickye says.

Violence is killing our kids. Murder is the second leading cause of death among teenagers.

“I saw my friend in the hospital die with a nine millimeter, with a bible over it and we had a prayer before he died. Things change from that,” says one teen.

Changing the violence is exactly what a group of fourth and fifth graders are hoping to do. Some of the girls are step dancing for peace.

“We want the world to be a safe place to live,” says Ebony.

They’re part of a program at school that teaches non-violence as a way of life.

Experts say parents may not be able to prevent their children from becoming victims of violence, but they can teach kids how to handle disagreements peacefully in their own lives.

“It has to do with what you control and what you do not control. You control your own behavior. You control what you do inside that relationship with the people inside that household,” says Dr. John Jenson, psychologist.

“Clearly something is not working and I think to conclude that it’s the kids that aren’t working is inappropriate. We first must look at the environment that we have created as adults for kids to live in,” says Dr. Stephen Thomas, psychologist.

An environment that, so far, has claimed too many lives, including Gregory.

Mickye McGuire-Rush says, “He was my best friend.”

Tips for Parents

After a decade of decline, the number of children killed by gun fire has increased, according to the report Protect Children, Not Guns. This report from the Children’s Defense Fund, used data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, to compile this list of statistics:

3,006 children and teens died from gunfire in the United States in 2005—one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 58 children and teens every week.
1,972 were homicide victims
822 committed suicide
212 died in accidental or undetermined circumstances
2,654 were boys
352 were girls
404 were under age 15
131 were under age 10
69 were under age 5
1,624 were White
1,271 were Black
614 were Latino*
60 were Asian or Pacific Islander
51 were American Indian or Alaska Native

The number of children and teens in America killed by guns in 2005 would fill 120 public school classrooms of 25 students each.

In 2005, 69 preschoolers were killed by firearms compared to 53 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

Since 1979, gun violence has snuffed out the lives of 104,419 children and teens in America. Sixty percent of them were White; 37 percent were Black.

The number of Black children and teens killed by gunfire since 1979 is more than 10 times the number of Black citizens of all ages lynched in American history.

The number of children and teens killed by guns since 1979 would fill 4,177 public school classrooms of 25 students each.

More than five times as many children and teens suffered non-fatal gun injuries.

181 more children and teens died from firearms in 2005 than in 2004—the first annual increase since 1994.

68 more children and teens died from homicide in 2005 than in 2004.

56 more White, 122 more Black, 40 more Hispanic, and 9 more Asian and Pacific Islander children and teens died in 2005 than in 2004.

More 10- to 19-year-olds die from gunshot wounds than from any other cause except motor vehicle accidents.

Almost 90 percent of the children and teens killed by firearms in 2005 were boys.

Black children and teens are more likely to be victims of firearm homicide. White children and teens are more likely to commit suicide.

The firearm death rate for Black males ages 15 to 19 is more than four times that of comparable White males.

A Black male has a 1 in 72 chance of being killed by a firearm before his 30th birthday; a White male has a 1 in 344 chance.

Eight times as many White children and teens committed suicide by gun as Black children and teens.

Males ages 15 to 19 are almost eight times as likely as females that age to commit suicide with a firearm.

The following behaviors and actions may be viewed as risk factors indicative of the potential for the initiation of violence by a child or adolescent:

Has a history of tantrums or uncontrollable angry outbursts
Uses abusive language or calls people names
Makes violent threats when angry
Has brought a weapon to school
Has serious disciplinary problems at school or in the community
Abuses drugs, alcohol or other substances
Has few or no close friends
Is preoccupied with weapons or explosives
Has been suspended or expelled from school
Is cruel to animals
Has little or no supervision and support from parents or a caring adult
Has witnessed or been a victim of abuse or neglect
Has been bullied and/or bullies or intimidates other kids
Prefers TV shows, movies or music with violent themes
Is involved with a gang or an antisocial group
Is depressed or has significant mood swings
Has threatened or attempted suicide

What Parents Can Do

The following are suggestions of ways to help your child or adolescent deal with feelings and/or situations that might lead them to participate in violent behaviors:

Give your children consistent love and attention. Every child needs a strong, loving, relationship with a parent or other adult to feel safe and secure and to develop a sense of trust.
Children learn by example, so show your children appropriate behavior by the way you act. Settle arguments with calm words, not with yelling, hitting, slapping, or spanking. If you punish children by hitting, slapping, or spanking them, you are showing them that it is okay to hit others.

Talk with your children about the violence they see on TV, in video games, at school, at home, or in the neighborhood. Discuss why violence exists in these contexts and what the consequences of this violence are.

Try to keep your children from seeing too much violence: limit their TV time, and screen the programs they watch. Seeing a lot of violence can lead children to behave aggressively.

Make sure your children do not have access to guns. If you own firearms or other weapons, unload them and lock them up separately from the bullets. Never store firearms where children can find them, even if unloaded. Also, talk with your children about how dangerous weapons can be.

Involve your children in setting rules for appropriate behavior at home; this will help them understand why the rules should be followed. Also ask your children what they think an appropriate punishment would be if a rule were broken.

Teach your children nonaggressive ways to solve problems by discussing problems with them, asking them to consider what might happen if they use violence to solve problems, and talking about what might happen if they solve problems without violence.

Listen to your children and respect them. They will be more likely to listen and respect others if they are listened to and treated with respect.

Note any disturbing behaviors in your child such as angry outbursts, excessive fighting, cruelty to animals, fire setting, lack of friends, or alcohol/drug use. These can be signs of serious problems.

Don't be afraid to get help for your child if such behaviors exist, and talk with a trusted professional in the community.


National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
National Safety Council
SafeUSA - National Center for Injury Prevention and Control
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Children’s Defense Fund