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Home > Juvenile Justice Division > Publications > Youth Gun Violence and Victimization: Prevention, Intervention, and Control


Juvenile Justice Publications

Youth Gun Violence and Victimization: Prevention, Intervention, and Control

Child Welfare League of America
National Center for Program Standards and Development
Juvenile Justice Division

John A. Tuell



Chapter 1: Current Trends and Research on Children and Gun Violence

Chapter 2: Promising Approaches

Chapter 3: Summary and Position

For More Information




The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) established the Juvenile Justice Division in July 2000 through a grant award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The objective of the award was supporting "the education of CWLA members on the connections between the child welfare and juvenile justice systems and the need for an integrated approach to programs and services; and reducing the incidence of juvenile delinquency nationwide and reducing the reliance on incarceration for accused or adjudicated delinquent youth." As part of CWLA's commitment to address the issues that interfere with healthy human growth and development, such as the continuing problem of youth gun violence and its devastating and far-reaching effects on victims, their families, their neighborhoods, and their communities, it is the intention of the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division, with and through its member agencies, to assume a strong position of national leadership in the integrated work of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. The Division will help to frame the national agenda for the future in behalf of children, youth, families, and communities and to support efforts to reduce youth gun violence and victimization through the promotion of effective strategies, practices, policies, and statutory regulations.

This issue brief details the mission, vision, values, and goals of the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division, which form the foundation for achievement of our objective-reducing youth gun violence and victimization. It begins by presenting historical and current data trends in gun violence and youth victimization, as well as approaches and strategies in current practice that have achieved success in reducing youth gun violence in communities and neighborhoods throughout the United States. The brief then covers a range of gun violence issues, including the reduction of firearm accessibility and possession and youth firearm victimization, as well as information about efforts to increase public awareness of safe and appropriate firearm safety and storage. This information will educate practitioners, administrators, and policymakers among CWLA member agencies and juvenile justice organizations about the relevant issues concerning youth gun violence and victimization. It is our hope that this issue brief will motivate readers to become active participants in the comprehensive and collaborative effort of the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division to improve the lives of our nation's children, youth, and families through the reduction of youth gun violence and victimization.

Chapter 1

Current Trends and Research on Children and Gun Violence

Gun violence represents a major threat to the health and safety of everyone in the United States. Every day, nearly 100 people die from gunshot wounds, and an additional 240 sustain gunshot injuries. The fatality rate is roughly equivalent to that associated with HIV-a disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes as an epidemic. Gunshot wounds also account for approximately $40 billion in medical, public service, and work-loss costs each year.

Consistent with theory and research, findings regarding violent victimization during adolescence, such as that incurred due to gun violence, reflect a pervasive effect on problem outcomes in adulthood. Victimization increases the odds of being a perpetrator or victim of violence in adulthood, including felony assault and domestic violence perpetration and victimization. Victimization nearly doubles the odds of problem drug use in adulthood and of ever experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. It also increases the odds of adult property offending. The risks posed by violent victimization during adolescence persist even when controls are introduced for sociodemographic characteristics and prior problems in adolescence. 1 This issue is a significant public health problem as well as a juvenile and criminal justice problem. As the Juvenile Justice Division addresses this within the context of its overall mission and goals, current data trends and avail-able research can help us define the landscape with regard to youth gun violence and victimization in our nation's communities.

3,365 children and teens were killed by gunfire.
1,990 were murdered by gunfire.
1,078 committed suicide with a firearm.
214 died from an accidental shooting.
488 were younger than age 15.
153 were younger than age 10.
73 were younger than age 5.


There is some positive news in the area of youth gun violence. Firearm deaths for children and teens dropped significantly between 1997 and 1998, according to a CDC report, "Deaths: Final Data for 1998." The CDC annual National Vital Statistics Report, which measures all causes of death in the United States, reflects that 3,792 children and adolescents younger than age 20 died in 1998 from firearms, a 10% reduction from 4,223 in 1997, and a 35% reduction from the high of 5,833 in 1994. These statistics demonstrate a drop from 16 deaths per day in 1994 to 10 deaths per day in 1998. Additional positive news is available in the most recent available data, reflecting that the death rate for people younger than age 20 dropped by more than 10% from 1998 to 1999. Although school killings have occasionally seized the headlines, data reflect that the total number of incidents in which a child or adult was murdered or committed suicide at school has declined by 27% since the 1995-1996 school year.

Although gun violence and overall homicide rates have declined in the 1990s, gun-related crime remains at an unacceptably high level. Nearly 30,000 people died in incidents involving firearms in this country in 2000. Approximately 58% of these deaths were suicides, and 37% were homicides. A study of firearm-related homicides conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice found that the age at which people most frequently commit homicide is 18, and that 18- to 20-year-olds constituted 22% of all those arrested for homicide. 2 The threat of gun violence reduces quality of life and leads to considerable public and private expenditures for prevention, avoidance, and treatment, as well as for related criminal justice system costs.

Unlike most other causes of death, firearm fatalities disproportionately affect adolescents and young adults. Approximately 1.1 million years of potential life were lost to guns in 1999-more than twice the number of years lost to breast cancer or AIDS. Firearm injuries are the eighth leading cause of death for youth in the United States. Furthermore, suicides and unintentional gunshot injuries claim the lives of even more juveniles than gun-related homicides.6

According to the Children's Defense Fund, more children and teens die from firearms than from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, and HIV/AIDS combined. Amazingly, additional data released from the CDC in 2000 reflected that the number of guns in the United States outnumbered children almost three to one. These same data show that African American children and teens are more likely to commit suicide using a gun.7

Even in the absence of fatalities suffered as a result of gun violence, the frequency of adolescent violent victimization presents as a risk factor for failure to make a successful transition from adolescence to adulthood. This effect is found even under relatively minimal definitions of success (such as good interpersonal relationships, lack of welfare dependency, and reasonably conforming attitudes and behavior) and is beyond the effect of other risk factors for lack of success, such as minority race/ethnicity, low socioeconomic background, and adolescent violent offending or drug use.

In addition, victimization, particularly violent victimization, has a substantial impact in terms of financial loss (in property victimization), physical injury (in violent victimization), and short-term associations with other problem behaviors and outcomes (such as mental and physical health). These effects are found during both adolescence and adulthood. Considered in combination, three factors- the direct costs of victimization in terms of financial loss and physical injury, the high rate of violent victimization in adolescence, and the pervasive effects of adolescent violent victimization in later life-strongly suggest the need for interventions to reduce violent victimization during adolescence. 3

If such interventions are successful, the current prevailing research suggests the result should be substantial financial, health, and behavioral benefits in both the short and long term. Conversely, the failure to intervene early and effectively in behalf of victims and perpetrators contributes to the well-documented continuation of the cycle of violence.

A study published in the journal Preventive Medicine reported that the United States is a dangerous place for children compared with other industrialized countries. A 1997 report comparing rates of homicide, suicide, and accidental death among children in 26 industrialized countries indicated that the gun-related death rate among American children younger than 15 years of age is nearly 12 times higher than the gun-related death rate among children in the other 25 countries combined. 4

Although adolescents may own guns for a host of reasons, some of which can indeed contribute to positive social development and strengthen existing family development (e.g., hunting), the data from the available research on violence indicate that guns play a major role in juvenile violence. An Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) report to Congress provides additional support for this premise 5:
  • Approximately 85% of juvenile homicide victims in a Washington, D.C., study were murdered with a firearm, whereas 7% were stabbed.

  • A Los Angeles study found that firearms were used in 91% of the homicide incidents involving a juvenile; interestingly, victims had possession of firearms in 13% of these incidents.

  • A Milwaukee study found that 40 out of 48 juvenile homicide offenders (83%) used a gun to murder their victims.
Most commonly, studies have revealed that juvenile homicide victims are generally of the same race and gender as their perpetrators and that the most likely victims of juvenile homicide are acquaintances.

In 1994, 134,445 gunshot wounds were reported in the United States. 8 This level of violence resulted in estimated medical costs of $2.3 billion 9, nearly 50% of which were borne by taxpayers, resulting in a staggering economic drain associated with gun violence. These figures, however, do not begin to account for the costs to families and communities in the form of shattered dreams and a diminished sense of safety and security.

If all Americans were killed with firearms at the same rate as African American males between the ages of 15 and 24 (103.4 per 100,000)-a group that has the highest firearm homicide rate of any demographic group-there would be 276,843 firearm homicides victims annually in the United States (based on 1997 CDC numbers and a total population of 2.67 million).

During the past decade, data such as those set forth above led to the adoption of new legislation at virtually every level of government. Numerous state and local jurisdictions nationwide introduced prevention initiatives to combat gun violence, including school-based violence prevention curricula, community-based education programs, aggressive diversion programs for first-time offenders, and "gun free" zones in urban areas. In addition, jurisdictions nationwide adopted "get tough" measures to curb gun violence. These measures were manifested in mandated prison sentences for gun-related crimes, automatic transfer or waiver of youth to criminal court for offenses involving guns, exclusion of juvenile gun offenders from diversion and rehabilitation programs, and imposition of harsh penalties for students caught with weapons in schools (e.g., zero tolerance policies).

On the federal and state level in the past decade, significant legislation has been enacted to address gun violence. For example, the 1994 Gun-Free Schools Act (P.L. 103-382) required that states receiving assistance under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act provide for the expulsion of students who bring firearms to school. Congress continued to craft similar legislation to reduce youth gun violence during 2000 and 2001. Many state jurisdictions expanded their legal restrictions on the possession and use of firearms by youth. Virtually every state regulated the age at which an individual may purchase or receive a gun. Most states provided stronger criminal penalties for adults who facilitate the transfer of firearms to youth. Approximately one in three states prohibited minors from possessing any firearms.

Arguably, some of these legislative measures and purported answers may eventually have deleterious effects without proof of an effect on youth gun violence. In enacting these dramatic reforms, these lawmakers may have altered the basic elements that fundamentally distinguished the juvenile justice system from the criminal, or adult, court system.

Attitudes and Behaviors

The growing body of research regarding the connection between children and access to guns reveals that family and friends are the main sources for youths' obtaining firearms. According to KidsHealth, a national organization that provides parents with information on doctor-approved health information about children from before birth through adolescence, more parents are working outside the home than ever before, resulting in an absence of parental guidance and super-vision when kids are home. KidsHealth reported that:
  • An estimated 1.2 million elementary school students come home to a house with a gun, but no guardian.
  • Each day, more than 100,000 teens bring handguns to school.
  • Characters in movies and television shows sometimes use guns to gain power or control and often suffer no consequences for their actions.
Common Sense About Kids and Guns, a national public education organization dedicated to providing all adults with the necessary information to empower them to protect their children, reports that firearm accidents occur when children and teens discover firearms at home that have been left loaded or unsecured. These instances frequently prove to be fatal. Because of the serious risk of firearm-related death and injury to children and teenagers, experts on all sides of the gun debate agree that the decision to keep a firearm in the home has significant implications for children living in that home. One national survey found that among homes with children and firearms, 43% had at least one unlocked gun. 10 Another study, published in Pediatrics, found that even though boys are being taught gun safety, those who find a gun are likely to handle it and even pull the trigger. 11 The study also found that the child's interest in handling a gun did not in any way match the parents' perceptions of their child's interest in guns. In summary, the absence of an individual and collective commitment by gun owners to sufficient storage, safety, and handling of firearms within these homes continues to con-tribute to unnecessary deaths among children and youth.

Nearly 50,000 violent deaths occur in the United States each year, but cur-rent data systems do not capture the details of when, where, and how they occur. There is no comprehensive, linked, national reporting system to assist in answering critical questions about violent deaths, including gun-related deaths and injuries, homicides, and suicides. Front-line investigators like homicide detectives, coroners, medical examiners, and emergency room physicians collect many of these data, but no system gathers and links the information into a usable form. With the current fragmented system, the valuable work of professionals who investigate violent deaths is not being used as effectively as it could be. The opportunity to study and implement prevention strategies is lost.

The CDC's Injury Control Center is beginning to implement a National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) that would coordinate the collecting and linking of data about all violent deaths. By developing a comprehensive, uniform reporting system that provides this key information, the CDC will enable communities to make informed decisions about how to reduce violent death. The state-based information system would be used to help law enforcement, public health officials, violence prevention groups, and policymakers better understand and prevent violent death in communities. This analysis would guide local action plans to address violence as a multifaceted public health and criminal justice issue.

The NVDRS has received funding to begin implementation in five to seven states in 2002. Full implementation will require additional resources of $20 million. CWLA has joined other national organizations to advocate in behalf of NVDRS. With a uniform, linked reporting system on violent deaths, the meticulous work of police, coroners, medical examiners, crime lab investigators, and others will give decisionmakers and community leaders information critical to their efforts to curtail violence.


According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report, among prisoners who carried a firearm during the offense for which they were imprisoned, the percentage of inmates receiving their gun from family or friends rose from 34% in 1991 to 40% in 1997. 12

Contrary to public perception, most murders are not the result of an attack by a stranger, but rather occur after arguments or conflict between acquaintances, and those acquaintances are frequently related to one another. Of murders in 2000, almost half of the victims were either related to (13.9%) or acquainted with (30.9%) their killers. Fewer than one in five homicide victims were killed by a stranger. 13

Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics further support the reality that most firearm murders do not result from random criminal attacks or premeditated murders, but rather stem from arguments that turn deadly because of ready access to a firearm. The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports series indicates that:
the easy accessibility of firearms and the lethal nature of a gun are clearly apparent in the murder figures [reflected in this report]. When assaults by type of weapon are examined, a gun proves to be seven times more deadly than all other weapons combined. 14
Suicide and Unintentional Injury

For all of our fear of and fascination with guns and murder and the debate surrounding the methods by which the greatest reductions in this scourge can be achieved, the fact remains that most gun deaths in America are not a result of murder, but rather of suicide. Like murder, the increase in the suicide rate has paralleled the increase in America's firearm population. In the 1960s, the overall suicide rate in the United States stood at 10.0 per 100,000. The firearm suicide rate accounted for 46.8% of the 20,203 reported suicides in 1969. By the middle of the 1970s-following a period in which the country's handgun population tripled-the overall suicide rate reached 12.7 per 100,000, whereas the firearm suicide rate hit 7.0 per 100,000, accounting for 55.1% of the 27,063 reported suicides that year. During this period, the suicide rate by nonfirearm means actually decreased from 5.8 to 5.7 per 100,000. Virtually all of the increase in suicide rates between the initial period of measurement for these data was attributed to the increase in suicide by firearms. 15 The trend regarding this correlation has remained constant over the past two decades and is reflected in the current data on suicide in the United States. According to KidsHealth, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24, nearly 5,000 youth commit suicide in a year, and 30 to 50 times that number attempt suicides.

Gender differences affect the means youth use to attempt suicide. Females, who are about twice as likely to attempt suicide as males, tend to act on suicidal impulses through attempts to overdose on drugs or engagement in self-mutilation behaviors. Males, who complete suicide more often than girls, more frequently use firearms, hanging, or jumping. Because males tend to choose more sudden and lethal methods, they are three or four times more likely to succeed in their attempts than their female counterparts.

The risk of suicide increases dramatically when children and teens have access to firearms at home, as evidenced by the fact that currently, almost 60% of all successful suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. This evidence suggests the imperative nature of effectively educating the public on the reduction of accessibility and the safe storage of guns in homes that maintain a firearm.

As with the previously cited example regarding the similarity to instances of murder, most suicides involving a gun are not committed with weapons purchased specifically for the attempt, but with firearms already available. Only about 1% of suicides involving firearms are committed with weapons purchased specifically for the suicide.

Summary of the Data Trends

The data and research presented here are both encouraging and discouraging. Although there has been a downward turn in gun-related violence and homicides, the data also show that a disturbing number of children continue to be victims of gun violence. Although the decrease in youth gun violence reflects a greater national focus on the issue and the use of more effective programs and practices to attack the problem, it is clear we must do more. Fortunately, considerable progress has been made in recognizing the nature and scope of the issues confronting efforts to reduce gun violence and victimization. These projects, programs, strategies, and practices give promise and hope that these efforts may be replicated in other homes, schools, and communities and truly lead to a decrease in these preventable tragedies.

Chapter 2

Promising Approaches

In 1998, OJJDP identified more than 400 gun violence reduction programs around the nation. A study of these programs yielded 60 individual programs that were featured in the OJJDP report. 16 The report also highlights the 10 most promising programs and strategies. In any discussion of promising approaches to this problem, gun violence should be considered as a three-phase continuum comprising (1) the illegal acquisition of firearms, (2) the illegal possession and carrying of firearms, and (3) the illegal, improper, or careless use of firearms. Such an approach encourages the recognition that, to be effective, any strategy to reduce gun violence and victimization must focus on the development of a comprehensive plan that addresses all three areas. In the absence of a comprehensive approach, communities are encouraged to focus on at least one of these points of intervention in their effort to reduce gun violence and victimization. The communities profiled in this report have successfully engaged in the process of forming partnerships, measuring problems, setting goals, evaluating strategies, and implementing, evaluating, and revising plans based on evaluation results. These successful communities share the following characteristics:
  • The community recognizes (through data analysis) its gun violence problems and mobilizes multiple resources to address the defined issues.

  • Law enforcement and other agencies and organizations (e.g., child welfare agencies, schools, business leaders, and grassroots community organizations with a focus on these issues) are enlisted as key partners.

  • Collaborative partners have access to the identified necessary resources, develop a comprehensive vision and plan, and mobilize and sustain gun violence reduction activities.

  • Collaborative partners develop a leadership structure.
For example, the Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence is a comprehensive initiative that uses multiple and coordinated strategies to address risk factors associated with gun violence. These risk factors include aggressive behaviors at an early age, gun possession and carrying, substance abuse, exposure to violence, conflicts with authority, lack of anger management skills, poor parental supervision, low academic achievement, truancy, delinquent peers, and unemployment. 17 Rather than focusing on one or two risk factors, these collaborative programs recognized that success was more likely to result from strategies that addressed identified risk factors in multiple ways and developed measurable goals and objectives. 18

Starting in the early to mid-1990s, Boston embarked on a series of innovative public safety strategies that focused on violent youth and illicit gun markets. Using a problem-solving approach, a broad coalition of federal, state, and local governmental agencies; nonprofit community service organizations; businesses; religious leaders; parents; and resident stakeholders developed several programs to address the escalating number of juvenile homicides. Its enforcement strategy largely consisted of Operation Ceasefire (a gang violence abatement strategy), the Boston Gun Project (a gun suppression and interdiction strategy), and Operation Night Light (a police-probation partnership). In addition to enforcement efforts, and in keeping with its new neighborhood policing strategy, Boston also employed numerous prevention and intervention initiatives. Working with community partners, the city built on existing services in the communities to create an extensive and effective continuum of services.

Since Operation Ceasefire, the Boston Gun Project, Operation Night Light, neighborhood policing, tougher youth offender laws, and expanded prevention and intervention programs went into effect, the number of homicides in Boston has decreased dramatically. This reduction in homicides cannot directly be attributed to any one of these programs but may be due to the cumulative effect of this comprehensive, multipronged approach. Other positive outcomes also resulted from these programs. First, citywide collaboration has now been institutionalized. For example, in reaction to the threat of recruitment of young Bostonians by the Crips and Bloods gangs, a group of police, probation officers, religious leaders, and street workers visited middle school students in their schools and homes before school ended in June 1998. Second, as a result of these efforts, communities are now regularly consulted by public agencies in setting agendas for their neighborhoods. Finally, Boston has become a national model for youth gun violence reduction.

Another model, developed by OJJDP in reaction to the troubling statistics about youth gun violence, is the Partnerships to Reduce Juvenile Gun Violence program. This effort seeks to increase the effectiveness of existing strategies by enhancing and coordinating prevention, intervention, and suppression strategies.

This problem-solving program is based on research showing that community assessment of local youth gun violence problems should guide program development and that strategies designed to reduce gun violence should be comprehensive and theory driven and should include suppression, intervention, and prevention components. The program goals are designed to:
  • Reduce youths' illegal access to guns.

  • Reduce the incidence of youth carrying guns illegally and committing gun-related crimes.

  • Increase youth awareness of the personal and legal consequences of youth violence.

  • Increase participation of community residents and organizations in youth violence reduction efforts.

  • Increase and coordinate services and resources for at-risk youth, especially youth involved in the justice system.
The program suggests implementation of the following seven strategies to ensure the achievement of its goals:
  1. A firearms suppression strategy that reduces juveniles' access to illegal guns and prevents illegal gun trafficking by developing special law enforcement units using community allies to report illegal gun trafficking, targeting gang members, prosecuting those who possess illegal guns, and imposing sanctions on those who are involved in gun violence.

  2. A juvenile justice strategy that applies appropriate alternative sanctions and interventions to respond to the needs of juvenile gun offenders.

  3. A communication strategy that unites law enforcement with neighbor-hoods, includes community policing, and initiates community supervision to educate at-risk and court-involved youth on the legal consequences of gun violence.

  4. A positive opportunities strategy that provides young people with beneficial programs such as academic tutoring, mentoring, job training and placement, and after-school activities.

  5. An education strategy that teaches at-risk youth how to resolve conflicts and resist peer pressure to carry or possess guns.

  6. A public information strategy that engages broadcast and print media to communicate the dangers and consequences of gun violence to juveniles, families, and residents.

  7. A community mobilization strategy that encourages neighborhood residents and youth to improve the community.
The two examples cited above effectively engage multiple, coordinated strategies with the active participation of an inclusive community collaboration. This approach is congruent with CWLA's framework for achieving a future in which families, neighborhoods, communities, and governments ensure that all youth are provided with the resources needed to grow into healthy, contributing members of society.

Despite a decline in gun violence, much remains to be done. This responsibility for action does not only lie with neighborhood and community collaborations, but also with the gun industry and manufacturers. The inherently dangerous nature of guns makes it incumbent on the gun industry to take into account the public's health and safety in conducting its business activities. There are many examples of strategies and practices that endorse the safe handling, use, and storage of firearms and handguns. The National Rifle Association (NRA) sponsors a variety of programs, publications, and training courses that promote these goals. Among those that satisfy the standard of promising approaches are the Home Firearm Safety Program, which explains how different types of firearms operate and how to handle and store them safely, and A Parent's Guide to Gun Safety, which addresses responsibilities for parents as gun owners. This guide recognizes that in a home where guns are kept, the degree of safety a child has rests squarely on the parents. It also explains how parents can become conversant with their children about guns and drives home a fundamental safety rule: Store guns so that they are inaccessible to children and other unauthorized users. The NRA's Refuse to Be a Victim program provides counsel on crime-prevention strategies through a nationwide series of seminars in which certified instructors explain proactive steps citizens can take to increase security in their home or apartment, in their workplace, and where they travel. Although citing the NRA may raise political sensitivities, the programs devoted to education, safe storage and handling, and dialogue among parents and children are key components in the effort to effectively reduce gun violence and victimization.

The gun industry can and should take steps to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries in our society, including changing industry practices that contribute directly to gun-related violence, both criminal and unintentional (e.g., design and manufacturing standards, marketing and advertising strategies, sales practices). In this regard, the practice of making available and advocating for safety devices (such as trigger locks and other devices designed to prevent children from being able to load the ammunition) is important to the effort to reduce gun violence.

Another promising effort that has gotten little attention as an effective strategy to reduce gun violence, victimization, suicide, and unintentional injury is the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP's) Enlist program, which has suggested recommendations for clinical violence prevention and management. This pro-gram endorses early nurturing, limit setting, and screening for risk, safety, and psychological consequences of violence for all children and families in the routine course of pediatric practice.19 The AAP recommendation is "a historic step because it makes pediatrics the first medical specialty to fully embrace the idea that violence is a health issue and that the responsibility for violence prevention does not rest solely in the hands of the criminal justice system."20 It is important to note that the AAP continues to endorse the position that the absence of guns from children's homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents. Pediatric practice and clinical intervention in this milieu has proven a good place to reach parents of preadolescent children to intervene on the risks of adolescent accessibility of guns.

In a statement of support for this approach, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, president of Common Sense About Kids and Guns, said that:
the way a gun is stored can be a matter of life and death for our children. A responsible adult cannot rely on a child or teenager not to touch a gun, merely because they have been told to do so. It is impossible to predict what children, teenagers, and their friends will do, and the risks of mishandling a gun are too great to place the burden of responsibility on anyone other than the adult bringing the gun into the home.21
Any discussion of promising approaches or effective strategies regarding the reduction of gun violence and victimization would not be complete without recognition of the effect of sound legislative and statutory measures that lead to positive outcomes. Although this issue brief does not endorse specific pieces of legislation, certain underlying legislative and regulatory tenets are essential components of the previously articulated comprehensive and strategic approaches to gun violence reduction and control. These include:
  • Public health research and prevention strategies to reduce gun violence,

  • Licensing and registration requirements,

  • Restrictions on the manufacture and sale of automatic weapons and bullet clips,

  • Local ordinances restricting the sale and distribution of guns,

  • Criminal laws specifying use of guns while committing crimes,

  • Laws restricting concealed weapons,

  • Sentencing guidelines for offenders convicted of using guns,

  • Trigger lock laws,

  • Safe storage ordinances, and

  • Youth violence prevention initiatives.
Communities that have engaged in a data-driven analysis to assess the unique characteristics of the issue should certainly consider addressing legislative and regulatory measures, like those enumerated above, as part of a comprehensive reduction and control strategy.

Chapter 3

Summary and Position

As the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division works toward the accomplishment of our overarching goal to reduce the incidence of juvenile delinquency, we will help frame the national agenda for the future and assume a strong position of leadership in advocacy for the reduction of youth gun violence and victimization. Our charge, therefore, is to support strategies that move us toward achievement of the goal of reducing the number of youths and families affected by gun violence and victimization, and ultimately prevent this violence. The exciting and energizing challenge already has some positive foundations on which we may build.

Many complex issues lead to gun violence in our society. This complexity leads the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division to consider gun violence as a three-phase continuum. This continuum is composed of (1) the illegal acquisition of firearms, (2) the illegal possession and carrying of firearms, and (3) the illegal, improper, or careless use of firearms. This approach encourages the recognition that, to be effective, any strategy to reduce gun violence and victimization must focus on the development of a comprehensive plan to incorporate strategies and programs in all three of these areas. In the absence of implementation of this comprehensive approach, CWLA encourages community focus on at least one of these points of intervention in the effort to reduce gun violence and victimization. Communities that have adopted the process of forming partnerships, measuring problems, setting goals, evaluating strategies, and implementing, evaluating, and revising plans based on evaluation results have had the most significant effect on gun violence reduction. This approach, successfully implemented in the Boston Strategy to Prevent Youth Violence, is endorsed by the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division.

The CWLA Juvenile Justice Division also endorses programs, publications, and training courses that promote the safe handling, use, and storage of firearms and handguns. As noted, the NRA sponsors a variety of efforts that promote these goals. These include the Home Firearm Safety program, which explains how to handle and store firearms safely; A Parent's Guide to Gun Safety, which addresses responsibilities for parents; and the Refuse to Be a Victim program, which provides counsel on crime-prevention strategies through a nationwide series of seminars. The effort to raise the level of dialogue and awareness through advocacy and education are key components in the work to effectively reduce gun violence and victimization.

The CWLA Juvenile Justice Division also supports the AAP view that violence is a health issue and that the responsibility for violence prevention does not rest solely in the hands of the criminal justice system. Pediatric practice and clinical intervention in this milieu have proven to be good mean of reaching parents of pre-adolescent children to intervene in the problem of adolescent accessibility of guns. This public health approach contributes to the advancement of comprehensive and multidisciplinary strategies that are able to reach one child and family at a time.

Finally, the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division supports community efforts to engage in a data-driven analysis to assess the unique characteristics of the gun violence issue that will necessitate the development or adoption of legislative and regulatory measures, like those enumerated previously. This thoughtful and considered contemplation will ultimately contribute to the comprehensive nature of communities' reduction and control strategies. Specifically, with regard to the adoption and passage of statutory and regulatory measures, the CWLA Juvenile Justice Division supports closing gun show loopholes by requiring background checks of potential firearm owners; reasonable efforts to require licensing and registration; the requirement of gun safety devices, including trigger locks, on all new handguns and devices to prevent children from being able to load or use them; and stronger new laws and tougher enforcement of current laws to help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children.

Through the integrated and multidisciplinary development of these comprehensive approaches to the issue of gun violence and victimization, we will be able to realize the greatest opportunity to positively affect the lives of children, youth, families, communities, and neighborhoods throughout the country. Much challenging and exciting work in this arena remains ahead for all of us. Although the scope and nature of the work articulated in this publication is far-reaching and ambitious, several blueprints for action give reason and hope to believe that we can achieve our goals. The CWLA Juvenile Justice Division challenges all persons to actively engage in efforts to reduce and eventually eradicate youth gun violence and victimization.

For More Information

If you would like to know more about the Juvenile Justice Division of CWLA and its work, please contact:

John A. Tuell, Director:

CWLA Program Office
2345 Crystal Drive, Suite 250
Arlington, VA 22202
Phone: 703/412-2400
Fax: 703/412-2401


CWLA Juvenile Justice Division

Mission and Vision

CWLA is the nation's oldest and largest membership-based child welfare organization. We are committed to engaging people everywhere in promoting the well-being of children, youth, and families and protecting every child from harm.

We envision a future in which families, communities, organizations, and governments ensure that all children and youth are provided with the resources necessary to develop into healthy, contributing members of society. The Juvenile Justice Division serves the overall mission of CWLA on behalf of children and families involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems by:
  • Providing national leadership in promoting juvenile justice and child welfare systems coordination and integration.
  • Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information on practices and policies that promote positive youth development.
  • Advocating for the implementation of sound legislation, policies, and procedures that contribute to juvenile justice system reform and improvement and to the development of effective delinquency prevention and intervention programs.
  • Promoting the development and implementation of effective community-based intervention and treatment alternatives to reduce the reliance on incarceration for delinquent youth.
  • Providing consultation, training, and technical assistance resources to implement systems integration and reform and to implement appropriate and effective responses to reduce juvenile delinquency and victimization.

The Juvenile Justice Division of CWLA, with and through its member agencies, supports these core values:
  • Every youth and family has value to society.
  • Every youth is entitled to nurturance, protection, the chance to develop to his or her full potential, and opportunities to contribute to the common good.
  • The family, child welfare system, and the juvenile justice system have specific responsibilities, but society at large shares the responsibility for promoting healthy human development.
  • Youth thrive in the context of families, kinship systems, and communities. Our work must recognize and value these connections.
  • The agencies and organizations that compose CWLA have come together because we share a common mission and value interdependence. The integration of the child welfare and juvenile justice systems will serve the interests of both systems, the youth and families we serve, and society at large. We know we are stronger by working collaboratively and in coordination.
  • System integration and reform is best accomplished through a comprehensive, strategic process that values the inclusion of youth, families, and youth-serving agencies and organizations, which uses the best available information, research, and practices to guide the process.
  • The shared values that bind this learning organization include openness, trust, accountability, and a commitment to continuous quality improvement.

The Juvenile Justice Division is committed to working on activities to reduce the incidence of juvenile delinquency nationwide and to reduce reliance on incarceration for delinquent youth through the following:
  • Developing and promoting community-based alternatives that support positive youth development while ensuring protection of public safety.
  • Developing and disseminating standards of practice as benchmarks for high-quality services that enhance positive youth development, strengthen families and neighborhoods, and improve coordination of the juvenile justice and child welfare systems.
  • Advocating for sound legislation and forming and supporting public policies in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems at the national, state, and local levels that contribute to the well-being of youth, families, and communities.
  • Promoting effective strategies that enhance systems integration and collaboration through training, consultation, conferences, publications, and other services.
  • Ensuring that all juvenile justice and child welfare services are provided in a manner that demonstrates respect for the diversity of our nation.
  • Promoting an open exchange of data, resources, and ideas across all systems that serve children, youth, and families and serving as a conduit for that information.
  • Serving people and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems by continually strengthening our member agencies and this, their national organization.
Historical Background

CWLA traces its beginnings to the 1909 White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, which resulted in recommendations to establish the U.S. Children's Bureau and a national organization of child-helping agencies and institutions. Eventually, proposals to develop a national organization were put forth, which led to the birth of CWLA, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that opened its doors in New York City on January 2, 1921. Throughout its history, CWLA has demonstrated leadership in developing standards of excellence in the full range of services in the child welfare system.

Currently, CWLA is an association of more than 1,160 public and not-for-profit agencies devoted to improving life for more than 3.5 million at-risk children and their families. CWLA maintains revised standards of excellence for 13 service areas and operates a number of related initiatives reflecting the changing world of child welfare. CWLA member agencies are involved with prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect and also provide various services in addition to child protection. These areas of service include adoption, family foster care, kinship care, juvenile justice system services, positive youth development programs, residential group care, child care, family-centered practice, and programs for pregnant and parenting teenagers.

In 2000, CWLA launched an ambitious 10-year strategic plan, Making Children a National Priority, to guide its efforts through the first decade of the 21st century and help the League realize its vision. The strategy has three interrelated elements that will assist in accomplishing this effort. These elements are (1) establishing a national framework, (2) strengthening and promoting methods that move research to practice, and (3) building strategic relationships.

CWLA will lead the development of a national framework that reflects the essential components regarding the characteristics of a comprehensive system for effectively reducing the victimization and enhancing the well-being of America's children and youth. CWLA will develop a fully integrated capacity to provide our members and the field with access to practical knowledge about proven practices and programs that enhance the well-being of children and youth and reduce their victimization. The League will then advocate for and support the widespread implementation of that knowledge at the community level. Finally, CWLA will develop and deepen strategic relationships with traditional and nontraditional partners to strengthen the national voice for children, youth, and families. This effort will include issues such as child welfare, positive child and youth development, child care, health care, behavioral health care, adolescent pregnancy, positive parenting, managed care, education, employment, housing, community development, homelessness, juvenile justice, and public safety.


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  2. Sorenson, S. B., Vittes, K. A., & Cook, P. J. (2001). Firearms report-Reducing injuries and death. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles DocuWorx, California Wellness Foundation.
  3. Sorenson et al. (2001), p. 14.
  4. Stevens, M. M. (2001). Children and guns in a well child cohort. Preventive Medicine, 32, 201-206.
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  19. Christophel, K. K. (1999). Useful mnemonic for remembering the AAP's suggestions for clinical violence prevention and management. Pediatrics, 104, 1171.
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