Will “Scared Straight” Work On Teens Using Guns?


Eight boys, part of the St. Louis Family Court’s six-year-old “Gun Court” juvenile probation program, skulked in the emergency room hallway behind Dr. Douglas Scheurer, trauma director at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Most were 15 and 16. But one was 13 and baby-faced – a “hard talker,” said juvenile officer Rhonda Norris. They were in the ER because they faced charges of weapons possession, armed robbery and involuntary manslaughter. The Gun Court – which couples intense probation with tours of an ER, morgue ,and funeral home – aims to remind the teens that they could someday end up here.

The words seemed to fall short with this group. There were few questions and no shocked faces. They learned that the ER handled 43 teen gunshot victims in 2007. Seven had died within 48 hours. No one can quantify how many guns are in the hands of teens in St. Louis’ poor urban neighborhoods. If you’re a juvenile and you want a gun, you can get one, researchers say. A study of 338 high-risk St. Louis youths last year by criminologists at the University of Missouri-St. Louis said that guns were pervasive and that teens were likely to arm themselves out of fear. More than half said they handled a gun at some point. Lois Pierce, director of the School of Social Work at UMSL, said that most kids in poor areas lived in constant fear and that getting a gun was sometimes a natural fight-or-flight response. This is significant for boys because without therapy, they may respond to trauma with aggression. A study of city schoolchildren co-authored by Pierce last year said the district’s typical 10-year-old had post-traumatic stress disorder. Twelve percent of the children interviewed had witnessed a homicide in their neighborhood.

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