Terminate this epidemic

Bill Durston is an emergency physician and president of the Sacramento chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed a bill recommending that high-school students be taught about gun-violence prevention. Senate Bill 1177, authored by State Senator Jack Scott, passed by an overwhelming margin in the Legislature, with the support of health-care professionals, youth organizations, members of the legal community, and other organizations interested in curbing the epidemic of firearm violence among our youth.

Is there something about gun violence that the governor doesn’t want high-school students to know?

Medical research has clearly shown that exposure to media violence fosters real violence, and the American media are the most violent in the world. One estimate suggests that by the time the average American reaches the age of 18, he or she has seen at least 200,000 acts of violence in the media. For today’s high-school students, many of these acts of violence involve a gun-wielding Schwarzenegger.

Gun violence has been called America’s “shameful epidemic.” Children in the United States are killed by guns at a rate that is almost 12 times higher than those of the other leading 25 industrialized countries of the world. Gunshot wounds are the second leading cause of death for American teenagers. On average, more than seven American teenagers are killed by guns every day.

For many young people, the teenage years are a volatile time during which the availability of a gun can turn an otherwise harmless moment of frustration or anger into a deadly tragedy. But when gun violence erupts among teenagers, it is usually them who get the blame, not the widespread availability of guns in our country or the adults who profit from glorifying gun violence in the media.

Teenagers consistently rate gun violence as one of their greatest concerns, yet the topic is rarely covered in school curricula. The gun lobby has managed to politicize the problem of gun violence to the point that many school administrators are afraid to address it. And now the governor of our state, who has made millions of dollars starring in violent movies, has vetoed a bill that would help ensure that high-school students get the education about gun-violence prevention that they want and need.

Gun violence among our youth is indeed a shameful epidemic. And for his role in this epidemic, Schwarzenegger should be ashamed.