A lot of people tip toe around gun violence and whether anything can be done about it and is it really a health problem. I am not going to be vague about my professional opinion:
- Gun violence is a public health issue.
- Gun violence affects young people, especially older teens and young adults, at a greater rate than other age groups.
- To understand why different types of gun violence occur, we need to be able to study gun violence. Right now, government obstruction of research about gun safety and violence is unacceptable. We need to understand everything about a problem in order to be able to work towards solving it.
- Easy access to guns is a big part of the problem.
- Our communities need to take action to decrease the effects of gun violence all around us.
How does gun violence affect young people? Here are some facts for you:
- Even though young people make up about 14% of our population, youth make up about 20% (or 1 in 5) deaths due to guns. Also, youth make up more than 40% of gun related injuries. Translation: Guns hurt teens at a greater rate than they hurt the general population.
- Youth suicide deaths by firearms are increasing. They have gone up increased 60% from 2007-2014. In fact, guns are used in about ½ of suicide deaths in youth. In youth who have died by suicide with guns, about 1/3 have felt a depressed mood leading up to their death. One in 4 have expressed to someone a desire to die. And about 1 in 3 had a major stressor the day of their death (like a family or relationship crisis of conflict).
- Teens die by accidental or unintentional firearm injury. Often, we think it is only little kids coming across guns and injuring themselves or a playmate by accident, but teens are even more likely to be injured by a gun accidentally than are little kids. Usually this happens when teens find guns in the home, are curious about guns or pick up guns they think are locked when they are not.
- Did you know that the majority of kids injured or killed by a gun are hurt at home? For older teens it is about 50/50 in the home vs on the street. Partner violence, or domestic violence in the home is a common reason young people are exposed to gun violence in the home.
- Even though minors are not supposed to be able to get a hold of guns legally, in one national study, about ½ of male high school 10th and 11th graders said it would be easy to get a gun. Usually, in fact, most guns used by young people are owned by family members.
Now, gun violence can even affect teens who aren’t directly physically injured by them. Exposure to violence in the home (domestic violence) or in your communities increases risks for all sorts of teen health problems. These are only a few:
- Substance use and abuse (opioid crisis anyone?!)
- Mental health issues such as depression and suicide.
- Risky sex behaviors leading to STDs and unplanned teen pregnancies
- Future dating or relationship abuse.
So, what can a teen do? It may feel like you can’t do anything, since most teens are not old enough to vote and adults make all the rules (good and bad). Well, I have said before and I will say here again, teens are agents of change and you are passionate, enthusiastic members of our communities. I know that I learn every day from my own teens as well as from teens with whom I am lucky enough to work and mentor! Teens can definitely influence families and communities for the better. So here are a few things you can do:
- If there are guns in your home, make sure your parents keep them locked.
- If you come across a gun in your house or in a friend’s house, don’t pick it up to check it out. Leave it alone.
- If you have been exposed to physical or emotional traumas in your family or community, understand that they can affect your mental health. The more traumas you have been exposed to, the higher the risk to your mental and physical health. So if you are feeling symptoms of depression or despair, do not be shy about asking for help from a trusted adult. Treatment can help.
- If you are feeling hopelessness and despair about something that has happened, and you think the only way out is suicide, call 1-800-273-TALK. This is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. They are there 24/7 to help people like you.
- If a friend talks about wanting to be dead or not wanting to live anymore, reach out for help. Tell them that getting help is OK. Give them the 1-800-273-TALK number to call. Don’t just ignore this warning sign. If you are not sure what to do, go to your school nurse or counselor or another trusted adult for help.
- If you are 18, register to vote and vote in the next local and national elections for candidates who recognize gun violence as a health issue.
- If you aren’t 18, but still are politically inclined, you can go visit your local representative’s office to make your voice heard.
- Global Teen Health Week will be observed from March 18-24, 2018. Violence Prevention is one of the 7 themes that are included in the week. Plan an awareness event or a student education assembly or plan to visit government officials that week to add to the discussion about ways to decrease gun injuries and deaths in teens and in your communities.
We all agree that we want to decrease gun violence in our communities. So we all need to make our voices heard about the importance of dealing with gun violence as a part of that. Violence is more than guns, and affects more than teens, but we need to start somewhere. This is as good a place as any.