Youth Gun Violence and Gang Participation

Eleven year old M.C. was shot in the neck in July while he was playing basketball with his friends. Police are
looking for a suspect, male aged 15-18, who walked onto the court and fired four shots. This wasn’t M.C’s first
encounter with senseless violence. In May, a man held a gun to his head and demanded money.

Unfortunately, M.C.’s story is not unique. Some youth in St. Louis are vulnerable. A recent study released by the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) named St. Louis as having the second highest youth gunshot
death rate in the United States. The gunshot murder rate for those aged 10-19 is three times the average of America’s
larger cities. Firearm homicide has been the second leading cause of death for those aged10-19 for several years.
The statistics released in the 2007 CDC study do not reflect the recent decline in crime, but the city still faces
challenges in curbing youth gun violence.

One major cause of youth gun violence is gang participation. According to Beth Huebner, a criminologist at the
University of Missouri St. Louis, juvenile gang members are four times as likely as other offenders to own and fire a
gun. Not only are gang members more likely to own a gun, they’re more likely to own four or more guns. This
creates a deadly combination of weapons and rivalries. Tragically, youthful arguments that were once settled with
fists now end with gun shots.

One of the challenges of curbing gang violence in St. Louis is that the gangs, much like the City, are very localized.
Most gangs organize around city blocks, but there are also immigrant and larger neighborhood gangs. The St. Louis
City police estimate that there are 3,420 gang members living in the city, representing 85 different gangs. Retaliation
is a common theme among gang violence, which leads to an endless cycle of killings.

An expansion to Missouri’s gun laws in 2004 allowed adults over the age of 21 to conceal a loaded weapon in the
car without a permit. It’s a situation that concerns law enforcement offers who say that allowing people to carry a
concealed weapon in their car without passing a background check can pose a danger to officers. In St. Louis, the
law poses another problem – thefts. People who leave guns in their car are at risk of becoming a victim of theft. Law
Enforcement is concerned that this could cause guns to get into the wrong hands.

One way to deter gun violence is by keeping guns properly stored and locked. Many of the guns on the streets have
actually been stolen from their lawful owners. The City of St. Louis Police Department offers free gun locks to
residents at their headquarters, located at 1200 Clark Avenue. The program, funded by Project ChildSafe, is
designed to keep guns out of the hands of juveniles. If you own a gun, police also recommend taking a picture of it
and writing the serial number on the picture in case of theft.

Gang reduction programs advocate for a multifaceted approach aimed at prevention, intervention and suppression.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to gang reduction. It takes the input and leadership of parents, teachers, and
law enforcement. By addressing the core causes of gang membership, a community can steer its youth in a more
positive direction.

The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office is focused on reducing the number of gun related crimes. In the first five
months of 2009, the Circuit Attorney’s Office issued 460 charges on weapons offenses. So far in 2011, 572 charges
have been issued. While law enforcement and the justice system play a large part in reducing gun violence, it must
be a collaborative community effort. Parents, neighbors, and witnesses are a crucial part to making St. Louis safer
for its citizens.

1114 Maikel Sl. Roon 4O1
Sl. Louis, Missouii 631O1
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