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Youth, Guns, and Violent Crime

NCJ Number
Future of Children Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Dated: Summer/Fall 2002 Pages: 39-53
Alfred Blumstein
Date Published
15 pages
This document analyzes the extent and causes of youth violence in the United States, particularly in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
The increase in violence during the late 1980's and early 1990's was due to an increase in violent acts committed by people under age 20. There were important racial differences in the growth of homicides--particularly an increase in homicides among young African- Americans, both as offenders and as victims. Dramatic declines in homicide and robbery in recent years are attributable to a decline in youth violence. The increase in youth homicide was due to a significant increase in the use of handguns, which converted ordinary teenage fights and other violent encounters into homicides. The other interrelated factors were the rise of illegal drug markets, especially crack cocaine, the recruitment of youth into those markets, and an increase in gun carrying among young people. It was the availability of handguns rather than a new generation of superpredators that contributed to the growth in youth violence. Young people carrying guns reported that they did so for their own safety. The increase in weapon arrests likely resulted from a combination of an increase in illegal weapon carrying and changes in police aggressiveness in pursuing illegal weapons. Concern about arrest and its consequences were one of the major considerations in decisions by delinquent adolescents not to carry a gun. This meant that other young people felt less need to carry guns for self-protection and seems to have been an important factor in the decrease in homicide and robbery by youth in the mid- to late 1990's. Youth violence diminished as the crack markets shrank, law enforcement increased efforts to control youth access to guns, youth gun carrying declined, and the robust economy provided legitimate jobs for young people. It seems that youth homicide rates are sensitive to enforcement of gun control laws, as well as larger economic factors. The government should regulate the supply and use of guns by youth and other inappropriate people. 7 figures, 32 endnotes