Academic journal article The Future of Children

Product-Oriented Approaches to Reducing Youth Gun Violence

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Product-Oriented Approaches to Reducing Youth Gun Violence

Article excerpt

SUMMARY

Injury prevention experts have suggested that gun manufacturers could reduce youth violence by changing the design of guns. Product safety features could make guns more difficult for children to fire unintentionally and more difficult to use if stolen or obtained illegally.

This article gives a brief history of efforts to make safer, smarter guns and assesses the potential of the product safety approach for reducing youth gun violence. Among the article's key findings:

* Research from the injury prevention field suggests that changing product design may be more effective in preventing injuries than trying to change personal behaviors;

* Existing product safety technologies for guns could reduce unintentional gun injuries, especially to young children. In addition, emerging technologies will enable gun manufacturers to "personalize" guns, which could prevent unauthorized users of any age from firing the weapons. Personalization could decrease access to guns by adolescents;

* Gun manufacturers have been slow to incorporate safety features into their products; but legislative, regulatory, and litigation efforts are under way to mandate safer guns.

The authors envision a future when the law requires product safety features--including personalization--on all new firearms. These product safety features have the potential to reduce both intentional and unintentional firearm injury and death.

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Injury prevention experts often suggest two key strategies for reducing youth firearm injury and death. One option is to focus on behavior modification, changing how young people and their families behave regarding guns. Another is to focus on product modification, changing the design of guns so that they are more difficult to fire unintentionally or more difficult to use if stolen or obtained illegally. These two strategies do not present an either/or choice; one does not preclude the other. However, one approach may hold out greater likelihood for success than the other. Although little research directly compares the effectiveness of reducing gun violence by changes in product design as opposed to changes in behavior, behavioral interventions have shown only limited promise for reducing youth gun violence. (See the article by Hardy in this journal issue.)

Unfortunately, studies that measure the effects of changing the design of guns to reduce injuries to children and youth are lacking. Few such changes have been made, and because no national data collection system on gun-related injuries exists, studying the effects of those changes that have been made is difficult.

Nonetheless, research from the injury prevention field indicates that changing products to make them safer is frequently more effective at reducing injury and death than trying to change personal behaviors. Relatively inexpensive product modifications could make guns more difficult for children to fire and could reduce unintentional firearm injuries caused when children do not realize that a gun is loaded. More sophisticated devices that allow only the rightful owners of guns to fire them could prove even more useful in reducing youth firearm injury and death, because they could keep youth from being able to intentionally fire guns obtained wrongfully from family, friends, illegal gun markets, or through theft.

This article reviews historical and current efforts to design safer handguns and to prevent their unauthorized use by children and youth. It begins with case studies from the injury prevention field which suggest that product modification is more effective than behavior modification in reducing injuries. The article then describes efforts by gun manufacturers to build in safety features during production, as well as emerging technologies to produce "smart" guns that could be fired only by authorized users. …

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