Children and adolescents accounted for 23 percent of the arrests for weapons offenses in 1993. Between 1985 and 1993, the number of juvenile arrests for weapons offenses rose from under 30,000 arrests to more than 61,000 (Greenfeld and Zawitz, 1995). In what has been described as an ''age-related" epidemic of juvenile firearm use (Zimring, 1996), firearm homicides committed by youths under 18 increased 229 percent between 1985 and 1992 (Blumstein and Cork, 1996).
A youth-centered injury prevention strategy is needed that would have several components: reducing the number of locations in which youth have access to guns, restricting their ability to gain access to the guns and ammunition in these settings, building features into guns that will reduce the risk of accidental or unauthorized use if the gun does get into the hands of youth, and building community coalitions to make youth environments safer.
All reasonable steps should be taken to prevent access to, and possession of, guns and ammunition by children and adolescents (other than in supervised target shooting or appropriate hunting situations). Although recent federal legislation makes youth handgun sale and possession federal offenses, primary responsibility for enforcing such prohibitions lies with state and local governments. Enforcement efforts should be grounded in systematic research on firearm distribution patterns, focused on revealing the paths by which firearms find their way from initial adult purchase into the hands of children and adolescents. Legislation and judicial rulings punishing gun owners who fail to properly store and secure their weapons, or holding them liable for harm caused by people who have gained access to negligently stored or secured weapons, merit careful consideration and evaluation.
Technologies and practices are now rapidly evolving that promise to make it easier to better secure weapons in the home and community, so that even if guns are obtained by youths or intruders, they will not be usable. Some of these approaches utilize trigger guards and other add-on locking systems (whose performance has not yet been well evaluated). Over a very long term, personalization of guns would be expected to have major benefits in reducing firearm injuries. If personalized firearms replace other weapons in home and community environments, they should eliminate child play injuries and shut down the firearm resale market and its pipeline to youth and criminals. Of course, even if all new weapons are personalized, it will take many years for personalized weapons to displace the existing supply of nonpersonalized ones. Reducing firearm injuries requires a long-term perspective. Perfecting the technology and stimulating the market for safer firearms are important goals for today, even though the full payoff will not occur for decades to come.
Recent experience with tobacco control and alcohol-impaired driving suggests that strong community coalitions can stimulate public support and organize effective action around a powerful youth-centered public health theme. Local communities that want to keep guns out of the hands of children and adolescents now have access to strategic advice and technical assistance from many national