An epidemic of youth homicide

November 23, 1993

The terrible toll taken by guns and firearms-related violence among young people is now showing up in the lyrics of popular music. Today's songs deal not with unrequited adolescent love but with the heartache of losing friends to the carnage on our nation's streets.

You can tell we're a long way from the relative innocence of songsters like the Beach Boys by the name of a group that calls itself DRS -- for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels." Their current hit, "Gangsta Lean," is a soulful threnody for all those cut down by gunmen's bullets.

The grim reality described in the song was underscored recently by a new report of the Washington-based Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence. Entitled "Kids and Guns: A National Disgrace," the report cites statistics showing that guns are used to murder one American child every three hours. Since 1983, the number of juvenile firearms-related deaths have more than doubled.

For young black men the rate nearly tripled from 1985 to 1990. Sixty percent of deaths among black males are the result of firearms injuries; if all Americans were being killed at a similar rate, there would be some 260,000 gunshot deaths every year.

The report also shows that not only are more children being shot to death, but more are doing the shooting. Since 1985, for example, the number of 15-year-old males charged with murder has increased by 217 percent. And for every child killed, more than seven others are injured, many of them seriously. The survivors often face a lifetime of physical and emotional rehabilitation at great cost to the nation's health care resources: In 1990, the total cost of firearms-related injuries was some $20.4 billion.

"The pervasiveness of gun violence in our society and the passive permissiveness shown toward gun violence has not only made our streets unsafe, but helped mold a generation of children who think gun violence is as American as baseball and apple pie," the report notes. "As violence has become commonplace in our society, more and more young people have come to see gun violence as an acceptable way to solve problems."

In 1990, gun violence ended the lives of nearly 5,000 young people who never had a chance to realize their potential. It is too easy to reduce this epidemic to cold facts and figures. That's why songs like those of the group DRS serve as a much-needed reminder of both the deadly danger facing so many young people today and the terrible sense of loss experienced by the families and loved ones who are left behind.

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