campaigns.15 This brief discussion of the legal framework for addressing youth gun violence will
focus on gun laws and related policies because they have the most significant effect on the lives
of youth offenders.
A variety of different kinds of laws have been passed that aim to reduce gun violence, the
most prevalent being to increase the severity of legal sanctions for gun-related crimes. “In
general, these laws either establish mandatory sentences or sentence enhancements (in some
cases, both) in an effort to deter potential offenders from using a firearm when committing a
crime.”16 Nevertheless, the available research addressing the effectiveness of these laws is
Legal responses to youth gun violence have evolved since the mid-1990s, when statistics
from the Bureau of Justice showed that “homicide offending rates for youths ages [fourteen] to
[seventeen] more than tripled from 8.5 per 100,000 in 1984 to 30.2 per 100,000 in 1993.”18 As a
result of that increase and because of widespread public fear, the reaction of legislators to the
high rates of violent crime was harsher sentences for youth who commit violent crimes.19 The
harsher sentences included expanding statutes that required youth to be treated as adults when
charged with particular offenses as well as mandatory minimum sentences for violations of gun
Since 1992, the majority of state and federal legislative responses to youth crime have
focused on transferring an increasing number of youth at younger ages to adult criminal court.21
In 1998, Congress further encouraged this shift by requiring states to have provisions that allow
for the prosecution of youth over the age of fourteen as adults in order to qualify for some federal
grants.22 One change in the process through which juveniles who commit offenses are transferred
to adult court was the expansion of judicial waiver, 23 which has been a part of some state juvenile
codes since before the 1920s.24 By the 1950s, most states had enacted judicial waiver laws that
allow juvenile courts to waive their jurisdiction over individual youth and transfer them to
criminal court, and these laws were nearly universal by the 1970s.25 Judicial waiver, however,
expanded in the 1990s to allow juvenile court judges to transfer younger juveniles and those
charged with less serious crimes to criminal court.26 In 1995, seventeen states expanded or
amended their waiver statutes.27 In addition, prosecutorial discretion expanded, granting
15 Matthew D. Makarios & Travis C. Pratt, The Effectiveness of Policies and Programs That Attempt to Reduce Firearm Violence: A
Meta-Analysis, 58 Crime & Delinquency 222, 223 (2012), available at http://cad.sagepub.com/content/58/2/222.full.pdf.
16 Id. at 224.
18 Brandon K. Applegate & Robin King Davis, Public Views on Sentencing Juvenile Murderers: The Impact of Offender, Offense, and
Perceived Maturity, 4 YOUTH VIOLENCE & JUV. JUST. 55, 55 (2006).
19 See Greg Ridgeway & Robert L. Listenbee, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Young Offenders: What Happens and What Should Happen, JUST.
RES., Feb. 2014, available at https://ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/242653.pdf (discussing how the “increase in the number of homicides
committed by adolescents and young adults in the late 1980s and early 1990s in some cities alarmed the public and policymakers
alike. By the end of the 1990s, all states had passed laws to make their juvenile justice system more punitive, and these new laws led
to more juveniles being tried and sentenced as adults and then sent to adult prisons.”); MALCOM C. YOUNG & JENNI GAINSBOROUGH,
PROSECUTINGJUVENILES INADULTCOURT: ANASSESSMENT OF TRENDS ANDCONSEQUENCES 4 (2000), available at
20 Applegate & Davis, supra note 18, at 55-56; YOUNG & GAINSBOROUGH, supra note 19.
21 YOUNG & GAINSBOROUGH, supra note 19, at 4.
24 Melissa Sickmund, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Juveniles in Court, JUVENILE OFFENDERS & VICTIMS NAT’L REP. SERIES BULL., June
2003, at 6, available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/195420.pdf.
25 Patrick Griffin et al., U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Trying Juveniles as Adults: An Analysis of State Transfer Laws and Reporting, JUVENILE
OFFENDERS & VICTIMS: NAT’L REP. SERIES BULL., Sept. 2011, at 8, available at
26 YOUNG & GAINSBOROUGH, supra note 19, at 4; Richard E. Redding, U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Juvenile Transfer Laws: An Effective
Deterrent to Delinquency?, JUV. JUST. BULL., June 2010, at 1, available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/220595.pdf.
27 SHAY BILCHIK, OFFICE OF JUVENILE JUSTICE & DELINQUENCY PREVENTION, U.S. DEP’T OF JUSTICE, JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM
INI TIATIVES IN THE STATES 1994-1996 42 (1997), available at https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/reform.pdf.