Guns: a Children's Issue

IN 1983, 2,951 children and teens in the United States died from gunfire. Ten years later, in 1993, 5,751 people under the age of 20 died at the hand of a gun - a 94 percent increase.

A new report by the Children's Defense Fund, based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics, reveals that the "morally unthinkable" killing of children by guns has not only become common, it continues to escalate. Consider these other findings:

The 5,751 youths killed in the US in '93 were more than three times the total number of gun homicides in Australia, Belgium, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, and Finland combined.

More preschoolers than police officers or US soldiers shot in the line of duty were killed by guns in '93.

Gun violence, these statistics show, has become a children's issue. Young people are being harmed by the inability of parents, neighbors, teachers, church leaders, and politicians to deal with gun proliferation. Though no one policy can solve the problem, there is more we all can do, as the Children's Defense Fund points out.

Government at all levels can take stronger action. That includes rejecting efforts to repeal or weaken the federal assault-weapons ban and the Brady gun-control law.

Community groups, churches, and parents can create alternatives to the street during after-school hours, on weekends, and in the summer - for instance, expanding, not eliminating, summer-jobs programs.

But guns are not only a threat on the street. Most gun deaths occur in the home. A recent poll shows that fewer than half of Americans who own guns take steps to keep those guns from children. Statistics like those already cited should help persuade people who choose to keep a gun at home to lock it up - out of the reach of children and those who might harm them.

A new public-awareness campaign carries this message: Children do what we do, not what we say.

We all say these statistics of gun deaths are appalling; now we should show how serious we are.

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