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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
behavior(s) targeted for change to check that the groups do not, by chance, differ in systematic ways prior to the intervention.
Quality of the Research
Firearm violence prevention programs are disseminated widely in U.S. public school systems to children ranging in age from 5 to 18. Every day children are taught to say “no” to guns and violence by educators who use a variety of methods to get the message across, from depicting the deadly consequences of firearm violence, to building skills needed to resist peer pressure, to using peer educators to reach students at risk. On the surface, this primary prevention approach to reducing firearm deaths and injuries among children and adolescents appears to be a worthwhile venture. A closer examination of these programs, however, suggests that present educational efforts may not be effective at reducing the risk of firearm morbidity and mortality among children, and in fact may have the opposite effect for some youth.
Only a few firearm prevention programs have been evaluated for outcome measures of attitudes and behavior using at least some of the criteria listed above: pretest data and randomized experimental and control groups. One of these is Straight Talk about Risks (STAR), a Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence program designed to educate children (in pre-K to grade 12) on the risks of handling a firearm. Younger children are taught to identify a trusted adult, obey rules, and solve problems without fighting. Lessons for older children center on understanding emotions that may lead to conflict, identifying mixed messages from the media, dealing with peer pressure, and learning about implications for victims of gun violence. Evaluations of STAR have produced mixed results. In a randomized prospective study design with 600 students, the Education Development Center, Inc. (LeBrun et al., 1999) found STAR to be most useful for increasing gun safety knowledge and attitudes for children in grades 3 to 5 and only moderately helpful for older children. However, in a small randomized control study of 70 preschool children (mean age 4.77 years), Hardy (2002b) concludes that STAR-like programs are ineffective in deterring children’s play with guns.
Of the more than 80 other programs described at least briefly in the literature, few have been adequately evaluated as to their effectiveness. Those that have been evaluated provide little empirical evidence that they have a positive impact on children’s knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs. The field of firearm violence prevention is in its infancy and thus can draw lessons from the related fields of injury, violence, and substance abuse prevention. These fields have experienced the same kinds of developmental