Schools and neighborhoods can be dangerous places for many young Americans. Knives, revolvers, and even shotguns turn up in searches of school lockers. News reports describe incidents of children being shot on playgrounds or of youths firing rifles as they cruise the streets in cars. The use of deadly weapons in violent incidents has increased fear among citizens of all ages.
According to Stuart Greenbaum, a public safety specialist, guns had become readily available to juveniles by the 1980s. In fact, Greenbaum believes that guns are the weapons of choice for youth ("Kids and Guns: From Playgrounds to Battlegrounds," Juvenile Justice, vol. 3, no. 2, September 1997). The juvenile arrest rate for weapons law violations increased over 100 percent between 1987 and 1993. Between 1993 and 2001, that rate fell by 49 percent, returning to approximately the same level as in 1987. (See Figure 5.25.)
From 1983 to 1994 gun homicides by juveniles tripled while homicides involving other types of weapons decreased. From 1993 to 2001, however, homicides by youth declined by 70 percent, primarily those involving firearms. Gun suicides also increased in the 1980s and early 1990s. From 1980 to 1994 the suicide rate for persons ages 15 to 19 grew 29 percent; firearms-related suicides accounted for 96 percent of the increase. The risk of suicide is estimated to be five times greater in households where guns are present. Beginning in 1995, the number of firearm-related suicides for persons 19 years of age or younger gradually declined, from 1,450 to 1,078 in 1999. Still, due to the overall decline in all firearm-related
Juvenile arrest rates for weapons law violations, 1980–2001
deaths during those years (from 5,285 to 3,385), the percentage of firearm-related suicides for persons under 19 rose from 27 percent of all firearm-related deaths in 1995 to 33 percent in 1998, then dropped off slightly to 32 percent in 1999.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), juveniles and youth are more likely than adults to use handguns and semiautomatic weapons in crimes. In 1996 the ATF began the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction, a pilot program in 17 cities throughout the nation aimed at reducing youth violence involving firearms. The cities in the program send information on all "crime guns" to the ATF's National Tracing Center.
In 1997 the ATF announced that four of ten handguns confiscated by law enforcement officers during 1996 were collected from persons ages 24 and under. Handguns accounted for 80 percent of the firearms taken from youths and juveniles, compared to 70 percent of guns taken from adults. Six of ten of the handguns confiscated from youths and juveniles were semiautomatic pistols. Most of the guns involved in youth crimes had been obtained from illegal firearms traffickers. About 25 percent of the crime guns wound up in illegal firearms sellers' hands, often as a result of household burglary, within three years of the guns' original legitimate sale through retail channels. This "fast time to crime" indicated the ease with which a criminal can fence a stolen gun, and the pervasiveness of the illegal firearms market.