Youth Violence: A Complex Issue Needing Multi-Focus

by Benjamin L. Cardin
U.S. Congressman, 3rd District
       Youth violence is a frightening problem that has gripped this nation. The tragic incidents such as Littleton, Colorado and Paducah, Kentucky make all of us focus on school violence, but we must recognize that youth violence goes beyond the school door. It’s a problem that includes the easy availability of guns, increased violence on TV, and the lack of direction that plagues our children.
       In Maryland the juvenile crime statistics are not good. While adult and juvenile crime rates have fallen nationally, in Maryland the juvenile crime rate has actually risen. According to figures from the Department of Justice, in 1996 there were 48,856 arrests of Maryland juveniles under the age of 18. By 1997, this number had climbed to 57,865, more than an 18 percent increase in one year.
       It’s clear that we must attack the problem of youth violence on many different levels. I recently held a Town Hall meeting at which experts on juvenile crime, child behavior and the media talked about the multiple factors that lead to juvenile crime and what we as a society should do to reduce the risk of youth violence.
       All experts agree that the key to youth violence is to prevent it before it occurs.
       In the last 25 years, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of working mothers and single-parent families. As a society, we must provide children with safe and stimulating after-school programs. We also need to make conflict resolution and peer mediation, as well as character education, important aspects of every school day.
       Youth violence has deep roots in our media culture. Dr. Susan Villani, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who is with the Coalition for Positive Media, spoke at the Town Hall meeting about the need to limit the amount of violence on TV and video games. Experts agree that regular, repeated exposure to violence is very harmful for children who may have violent impulses.
       I support congressional efforts that would place new curbs on the entertainment and publishing industry to try to reduce the amount of violence that our youngsters see. In addition, the Juvenile Justice Bill, which passed both houses of Congress and is now in conference committee, calls for stiffer penalties for offenders who commit these heinous crimes and for adults who illegally supply a juvenile with a gun.
       Another crucial component in the campaign against youth violence is the issue of gun safety. Guns and the availability of guns are an important factor in understanding why one child dies in this country from gunfire every 100 minutes. I support reasonable gun safety legislation that would require background checks for the purchase of guns at gun shows, ban the importation of high-capacity ammunition and require child safety devices for every handgun sold.
       The gun lobby would have us believe that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” But that isn’t the total story. The reality is that guns in the hands of the wrong person--criminals, someone who is mentally ill, a child at home who has found a weapon--kill people.
       No one approach can provide a complete answer to the problem of youth violence. We must be determined to combat youth violence on multiple levels: serious penalties for offenders; gun safety laws that keep guns out of the hands of young people; stimulating after-school programs and a willingness to instill the values of a civilized society in our young people.

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This story was published on November 3, 1999.