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Murder Rate for Young Men Soars, C.D.C. Says

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The murder rate for male adolescents has increased "substantially" in recent years, surpassing the rates for men in their 20's and 30's, a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The report, released this month, compares homicide patterns for men over the past three decades. From 1985 to 1991, the homicide rate among 15- to 19-year-olds jumped 154 percent, climbing faster than rates for their older counterparts, the report says.

During the same period, the homicide rate for 20- to 24-year-old men increased 76 percent. The rate for men in the 25-to-29 age group increased 32 percent, and the rate for 30- to 34-year-old men rose 16 percent, the report says.

The current murder rate for young men represents a "dramatic" shift from the period between 1963 and 1985, when teenagers were murdered one-third to one-half as often as older men, the report said.

"If you are a 15- to 19-year-old male, this is obviously a cause for concern," said Jennifer Friday, a psychologist with the C.D.C.'s division of violence prevention, which conducted the study.

Researchers contend that the increase in the murder rate of young men is linked, in part, to the recruitment of youths into "drug markets," where guns are often used to settle disputes. In 1991, 88 percent of all homicides among 15- to 19-year-old men were firearm-related, the study said.

While the effectiveness of various violence-prevention strategies is still being evaluated, the report recommended that all forms of violence--including child abuse and spousal abuse--be addressed. It also said prevention programs should enlist adults to serve as role models for youths.

Developing programs to increase literacy and address delinquency could also help prevent crime among youths, the study said.

Toy Gun Control

In the same week that the C.D.C. study and its recommendations were released, several industry and advocacy groups announced actions they were taking to curb violence among young people.

Toys "R" Us, which operates toy stores in 48 states, has announced that it will remove certain "realistic" toy guns from its stores.

The company's announcement follows an incident last month in which two New York City teenagers were shot by police who mistook their plastic weapons for the real thing. A 13-year-old boy was shot and killed; the other teenager, 16, was wounded.

A company statement said the toy store will no longer stock "look alike" toy guns, including western-style rifles and plastic handguns.

"The issue is the potential harm that these products pose to children and others," said Michael Goldstein, the chief executive officer of the giant toy-store chain. "We believe that by taking this step we can help raise awareness and encourage manufacturers and other retailers to join us."

Already, several other stores have followed Toys "R" Us. Kay-Bee Toy Inc., another national toy-store chain, announced that it plans to reduce its stock of plastic firearms. And Bradlees Inc., a New England-based retailer, said it will stop selling certain toy guns.

Mourning the Children

Meanwhile, the Children's Defense Fund has unveiled its campaign to fight gun violence through a public-education effort targeted at parents. The C.D.F.'s public-service announcements pronouncing the danger of guns will air on several television networks next month. The announcements will also be placed in magazines and on city bus shelters across the country.

"We have all these bad things happening to kids," said Hattie Ruttenberg, the C.D.F.'s assistant general counsel. "And when you add cheap lethal handguns to the mix, you increase the deadliness of the existing problems."

The C.D.F. kicked off its education campaign last month with a National Observance of Children's Sabbath to mourn the thousands of children killed by firearms in the past year.

The C.D.F. estimated that millions of people representing 150 denominations participated in the weekend services to discuss ways the religious community can respond to what the C.D.F. calls "the child violence crisis."

The organizers said they hope that the event will be a catalyst for religious organizations to develop more positive resources for youths.

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