Prather Pediatric and Allergy Center - Ask Doctor Brent

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Title: Bullets and Blades

Category: Child Care


There is a new epidemic in Detroit and it is death in children caused by gunshot wounds and stabbing. There are more children dying today in Detroit from bullets and blades than at the height of the polio epidemic from polio virus.

Violence among children is becoming epidemic throughout our country and particularly in certain cities. Pediatricians were urged at the recent American Academy of Pediatrics annual meeting in New Orleans to get more involved and not consider it strictly a criminal justice problem.

Dr. Jane Knapp who is director of the Emergency Medical Services at Children's Hospital in Kansas City was the major speaker at the recent meeting. She explained how several studies gathered over the past few years showed an increasing amount of violence and death in children from guns and knives. She said it is not strictly limited to urban areas like New York or Los Angeles but is spreading to medium size cities as well including Washington D.C., Chicago, Tampa and Kansas City. Some of the statistics she highlighted were that the average age of a victim was 11 years old and the majority were male.

Firearms are now the fourth leading cause of homicide and suicide in childhood. Among black males between age 15 and 24 homicide is the leading cause of death and has far surpassed death from auto accidents. Between 1984 and 1987, 80% of the homicides among young black males were caused from firearms. During those years there was a 95% increase in the homicide rate.

Homicide from firearms in our society was far higher than most modern societies in the world. In the 15 to 24 age group in the United States almost 22 out of 100,000 Americans die from a homicide as compared to 5 per 100,00 in Scotland, just under 3 per 100,000 in Canada; and less than 1 per 100,000 in Japan. Why are we up to 20 times higher in this horrible statistic Dr. Knapp asked. She answered because of gangs in the cities and drug related problems. Another factor she felt was the incredible ease of buying guns in our society. She stated there were 50 million hand guns in circulation in the United States in addition to assault rifles and semi- and fully-automatic weapons. One half of the homes in the United States have at least one or more firearms.

Crack cocaine in the inner cities along with territorial gangs are a threat to organized business. Twenty years ago, gangs fought it out with switch blades; today they use automatic rifles. Many deaths are peripheral to the gang warfare and involve innocent victims and siblings of gang members who get shot. Another cause for all this violence is family violence where roles are modeled for children to follow.

Certainly, there are no easy solutions to this growing problem but Dr. Knapp urged pediatricians to become involved in reducing the easy availability of handguns and promoting problem solving for children resort to violence. A good start might include reducing the violent content of TV shows and movies. Only by all of us as parents and pediatricians caring and working together can we stop this senseless killing of our youth.