Module 4

Youth and Guns

why youth are vulnerable to gun violence

Module 4

Youth and Guns

why youth are vulnerable to gun violence


Youth and guns

Globally, young people — particularly young men — make up both the majority of perpetrators AND victims of violence and crime.

Here are some shocking numbers that show just how badly violence and guns affect the lives of young people across the world:

  • Murder is the fourth leading global cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 29.
  • In SA gunshots have overtaken stab wounds as the primary cause of murder for youth aged 15 and older, though this figure starts rising from age 10.
  • Research shows that children are disproportionately affected by stray bullets fired into the air or at missed targets.
  • Young people are the main perpetrators of gun violence, 56% of those accused of murder with a gun are between 12-24 years old.
Children and gun violence in South Africa
Between 1991 and 2010 (20 years) 467 children under the age of 12 were admitted to a Cape Town children’s hospital after being shot. Of these children:

Why young people use violence

There is no single reason that explains why some youth, especially male youth, engage in acts of violence. It is a combination of many factors, including:
  • Exposure to high levels of violence in society — many South African youths are repeatedly exposed to violence in their homes, schools and communities as well as amongst their peers, both as victims and witnesses.
  • Dysfunctional family structures — including the absence of family support at a time when children most need it.
  • Absent fathers — they may be absent emotionally, abusive or simply not there.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse — by the youth themselves, as well as in the home by family members.
  • Having anti-social peers — friends who are aggressive, bully those around them, and generally get into trouble.
  • An inefficient education system — leading to high drop out rates and low matric pass rates.
  • High youth unemployment rates — leading to poverty, disillusionment, boredom and, in some cases, crime.

Exposure to violence

A 2008 study in South Africa found that:

What does exposure to violence do to youth?

Children and youth exposed to violence, including gun violence commonly experience:
  • Difficulty concentrating in the classroom, which can lead to lower marks and lower educational and career aspirations.
  • Emotional detachment from friends
  • and family.
  • Difficulty seeking support.
  • Difficulty expressing emotions.
  • Anxiety and stress about their surroundings.
  • Less interest in activities they used to enjoy.
Youth and gangs
Protecting youth from violence
What do youth think about guns?

Facts about SA youth

1 155 629 started Grade 1 in 2006, but only 34.7% passed matric in 2017

49% of young people aged 15–35 were unemployed in 2016

South Africa had the highest recorded youth unemployment rate in the world in January 2017

50% (or one in every two) school children has already experimented with drugs

did you know?

Protecting children from guns

The best way to protect your children from injury and death by a gun is to keep your home free of guns and avoid households where guns are kept.

Never leave children unsupervised in a home with a gun. Ensure that the gun is safely locked away in a safe with the safe key also out of reach.

Don’t buy toy guns for children

When we give a child a toy gun we are sending a message that guns are fun and that we approve of guns. Children also receive conflicting messages when they are told to stay away from real guns because they are dangerous, yet are given toy guns to play with.

In South Africa, a country traumatised by violence, we want to give children the right message: Guns are not fun!  GFSA urges parents and care-givers not to buy toy guns for children, but to buy toys that encourage imaginative, peaceful play.

This does not mean that children will not or should not play games involving make-believe guns or sticks, but it is important for role models not to be seen to support guns and gun violence.


Facts and figures highlighting the impact of guns and gun violence in South Africa.


Don’t believe everything you hear about guns. Here are some common myths you should be aware of.

Children don’t know where their parents hide the keys to the safe in which guns are stored.

Fact: While most parents think their children don't know where the safe keys are stored, often children know how to access the safe.

Children know the difference between real guns and toy guns.

Fact: Few children younger than 8 years can tell the difference between a real gun and a toy gun.

If you have a gun in the home you must teach your children to never, ever touch the gun, even if it's not locked away.

Fact: Telling children to never touch a gun is called gun-proofing. Experiments with children who have been gun-proofed show that this doesn't work: children who have supposedly been gun-proofed will play with a gun they have been told not to touch. Gun-proofing children also makes them responsible when the gun owner has been irresponsible with his gun.

A child is not capable of firing a gun.

Fact: Many parents think their children are not capable of firing a gun, but children as young as three years old are strong enough to pull the trigger on most guns.

Gangs are a police problem.

Fact: Gangs are everyone’s problem. Communities, government, police, educators and even families and friends of gang members need to commit and work together to end gang crime.

You will be able to protect your family from a gang.

Fact: Other gangsters don’t care where you are or who you are with when they decide to target you. It could be in broad daylight while you are with your family or at your home.

Take Action

Together, we can make a difference to reduce gun violence and help create safer communities for us all.

Get involved

Get involved with sports, youth clubs, or volunteer activities to develop skills, interests, and connections with peers and adults who make good choices, such as choosing to stay away from drugs and alcohol, and staying in school.

Be aware of gun promotion

Be aware of the effects of toy guns, and television programmes, movies, music, and video games that promote violence, and consider non-violent alternatives.

Start youth violence prevention programmes

Get involved in or start a youth violence-prevention programme in school or in the community. This would involve learning important skills like conflict resolution.

Seek help

If you or someone close to you has been a victim of gun violence or witness to gun violence, it is advisable to seek help. Start by finding out which organisations in your area offer support, and if there are none, take action to introduce this important service in your community.

Campaign for Gun Free Zones

If you belong to a youth or community group, campaign for Gun Free Zones especially in areas that are frequented by children and young people.

Our Donors

This publication was made possible with the support of the DG Murray Trust and the Raith Foundation.


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Address: Gun Free South Africa,
P.O. Box 3048, Killarney, 2193,
Johannesburg, South Africa


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