1999.05.03 Adolescent Violence
by Tom Heston, MD
By all accounts, nobody predicted that two adolescents (names witheld on purpose) would go on a rampage and kill 12 students and one teacher. The Columbine High School massacre has everyone pointing fingers at the media, the gun lobby, the police, the parents, the internet, and many other places. Just what can be done? Lets start by getting down to basics: injuries from bullets killed the innocent victims. Without guns and bombs, the two boys would not have been able to kill so many people in such a short time.
The Colt .45 Peacemaker handgun, introduced in 1873, was called the "peacemaker" because it reduced the power of a bigger person to bully a smaller person. It was a primary tool in taming the American West. But what role do guns play in contemporary society?
Firearms have been the predominant force in the increased rate of death from suicide attempts. It is well known that adolescent males commit suicide much more often than females, but the rate of suicide attempts is thought to be higher among the women. So why do fewer suicide attempts result in more deaths among teenage boys as compared to girls? It is because the boys tend to use guns, and the girls a less violent method such as a drug overdose.
Firearms in the home are actually more dangerous to the occupants than to intruders. After controlling for other suicide factors, the residents in a home with a gun were found to "successfully" commit suicide nearly twice as often as the residents in a home without a gun. Death from homicide has been found to be more than twice as likely among residents of homes with a gun. Firearms are currently kill more teenagers than death from all natural causes of death combined.
What role does the media have? A significant role. There is no question that television influences that actions of teenagers. If this were not true, then why have tobacco ads been banned on television? Why do corporations even advertise on television, if tv does not affect the viewer's actions?
Here's a three point action plan: a) write a letter to or call politicians and advocate gun and media control. Controlling one without the other will not work as well as controlling both. Don't just complain to friends--write that letter! b) talk with your family and friends about the need to control both the media and the guns, and c) write to television stations and express displeasure over inappropriate television shows and commercials. Write to regional National Rifle Association groups and ask for their help in promoting gun control laws.
The Internet Medical Journal gives our prayers go out to the families.
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