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Is there a way this region can prevent gun violence?

August 08, 2006

Seven fatal shootings in 13 days. No, not in Baltimore or Washington, D.C., but in the Tri-State area. It's time for a closer look at what may be driving these incidents, in case this is more than a horrible set of coincidences.

That won't be easy. There is no discernible pattern and few similarities except that two incidents allegedly involved couples having domestic problems.

The federal government moved to deal with domestic violence in 1994, when President Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act, which offered money and resources to states to deal with the problem in a number of ways.

The act also established a National Domestic Violence Hotline, in case the local shelter is not staffed on a fulltime basis. That number is 1-800-799-SAFE.

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Grants to local agencies are also available through the U.S. Department of Justice's Office on Violence Against Women.

We urge local governments and nonprofit agencies to review what is available and make sure all possible resources are being accessed to deal with the problem.

Federal officials also say that neighbors who hear or suspect domestic violence should not assume that "it's none of my business." Call police, they advise, while there is still time.

Gun-related violence among young men is another matter.

In 2004, the Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) issued a guide for department s dealing with gun violence among serious young offenders.

The burden on society is a heavy one; COPS estimates it at $80 billion a year. According to the guide, youth gun violence is "concentrated among a few offenders in a few places."

Most had already had experience with the criminal-justice system. They are just as likely to be victims as to offend.

And, contrary to what many believe, the COPS guide says that although gun violence is associated with drugs, it is usually about defending one's honor, status or those of a friend or family member.

Those notions and young men's determination not to allow anyone to disrespect them begins at a young age.

That's why programs such as Character Counts! are so important, because they address these tendencies.

Children learn the six pillars of character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Under "respect," students learn, among other things, to deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements.

The fatal shootings that rocked the Tri-State area may have nothing to do with anything we've discussed here. But as we heard recently in regard to avian flu, thinking about what might be necessary to prevent bad things is always a good idea.

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