GUN WATCH : Juvenile Homicides

When it comes to homicide in America, there is good news and bad news. The good news comes from Douglas Lee Eckberg of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C. He reports, in a study of crime statistics dating back to 1900, that murder rates today are comparatively low, nowhere near historical highs and well below the rates of the late 1970s. There is, he argues, no murder epidemic.

The bad news, Eckberg and other scientists agree, is that there is indeed such an epidemic among the young, particularly African American men. The culprit is a deadly combination of drug traffic and wide availability of guns.

Murder rates among young people were actually fairly stable until 1985, Alfred Blumstein of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh told the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science in Atlanta recently. Since then, he found, juvenile homicide rates have doubled even as rates for people over age 24 remained unchanged. And, tellingly, he found a doubling of juvenile homicides with guns but no increase in non-gun homicides.

Blumstein attributes this to growth in illicit markets for both crack cocaine and weapons since 1985. What used to be fistfights among youngsters now turn into gun battles, he says.

The implications are clear. At the very least, enforcement of existing gun control laws must be strengthened, and given at least as high a priority as drug control. Both markets, in Blumstein's words, "peddle dangerous products, and we have been obsessed with one and have largely ignored the other." Amen.

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