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5 American Handguns -- 5 American Kids (HBO, 10-11 p.m.): Partly, perhaps, to counter its own image as a purveyor of shows even more violent than the ones on broadcast TV, the cable industry is launching a commendable and remarkably broad initiative the week of March 19.
Called ''Voices Against Violence,'' it's a collaboration among some 50 cable networks to offer shows (please check local listings) in many formats that address violence in society and in the media, as well as special items like a couple of anti-violence announcements that President Clinton has recorded for the occasion.
One example of the programming is ''5 American Handguns -- 5 American Kids,'' a documentary offering five case studies grimly illustrating the impact of one form of violence -- handguns -- on families. Narrated by Beau Bridges, the program unhesitatingly relates these personal tragedies to the national problem of handgun availability, pointing out, among other statistics, that it is five times more likely a child will take his or her own life when there's a gun in the house.
Schoolbreak Special (CBS, 4-5 p.m.): One of the brighter spots in network TV's programming for young people is ''Schoolbreak's'' honest efforts over the years to probe and help solve their personal and social problems. This edition, ''What About Your Friends'' is the first program whose executive producer, writer, director, and cast are all African-American.
The story is about three high school girls from varied backgrounds who are close friends and dream of going to Spellman College together. As they deal with the reality of enrolling, hard and sometimes ironic facts interfere: One girl from a middle-class family can't afford the tuition, for instance, while a poor girl gets an enticing full scholarship to UCLA.
How they deal with this new world of experience and struggle to retain their friendship through it all is the heart of the story.
Please check local listings for these programs.