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Yes, Guns Kill (Young) People : Increasingly, it's kids who are the victims of the gun culture

June 27, 1993

Following the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson asked, "What in the name of conscience will it take to pass a truly effective gun control law?" Twenty-five years and more than 280,000 gun murders later, the fact, sadly, is that the national conscience required to pass effective federal legislation is yet to exert itself.

Pointing up the urgent need for action is the increasing number of shootings involving children. In 1990, the last year for which national figures are available, guns were involved in 2,874 murders, 1,476 suicides and 541 accidental shootings among children.

Twenty years ago in Los Angeles County, one in 10 fatal shooting victims was a child or teen-ager. Today the ratio is more than one in four, and narrowing.

Since 1987 in U.S. urban areas, gunshot wounds to youngsters 16 or under have doubled. In one recent horrific case, six children were wounded when a teen-age gunman opened fire at a crowded public swimming pool in Washington, D.C.

Here in Southern California Jackson Troung, 7, of Long Beach was killed last Monday afternoon by a single bullet fired into his chest, apparently accidentally, by a 9-year-old friend.

In an all-too-familiar story, the pair returned from school and found a nine-millimeter semiautomatic handgun lying on a sofa in the otherwise unoccupied home of the 9-year-old. That boy--who handled the gun "like he'd seen his father do in the past," police said--ejected a cartridge from the weapon, aimed and pulled the trigger. The bullet that remained in the chamber mortally wounded his friend. Alfred Louis Milliner, the father of the youngster who discharged the weapon, was arrested under a 1991 state law forbidding placing loaded weapons where children have access to them.

Laws of this type, however, do not bring children back from the dead. Neither do they deter adults--or, in many cases, teen-agers--from obtaining firearms in the first place.

In 1988, 945 youths were prosecuted for carrying firearms in L.A. County. By 1991, that number had doubled.

The death of the Long Beach boy at the hand of another child shows again that firearms are indeed death's most efficient accomplice. So it is appropriate to keep asking, as so many Americans have for the last quarter-century: Just what in the name of conscience will it take to pass a truly effective gun control law?

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