THE NUMBER of victims in Thursday's terrible street shooting goes far beyond the innocent 6-year-old girl who was wounded and the four boys, aged 12 to 14, all members of a loosely knit gang, who were also shot. It includes every terrorized witness, the sixth-grader who watched his fallen friends groping at their wounds, the parents who today must wonder who among them will be next to receive such horrible news. When children are not safe walking home from school, are they ever really safe from violence?

At one time, city residents sought solace from the implication that most victims were criminals themselves and easily tied to the city's illicit drug trade. That is no longer a realistic assumption. The pathology is much more firmly entrenched than that. It was seen at Eastern High School in the District this week where a student was knifed in an argument over a bag of corn chips, in the strangulation death of another youth over his basketball shoes and in dozens of other murders and deadly assaults in cities around the nation where the significance of human life has been reduced to the value of leather jackets, designer eyeglasses and portable stereos. Death can emerge from the smallest slight or insult. A "turf" dispute was said to be the issue Thursday, where five youths aged 14 to 16 from another gang are said to be the suspects.

The police are a necessary line of defense against this carnage, but more is required. Perhaps it would help to teach children techniques for the peaceful resolution of disputes, the need to stay out of the way of people with violent tendencies and the nature of the dangers and permanent disabilities that can result from these encounters. One small example of what we have in mind lies in a course taught by the MedStar trauma unit of the Washington Hospital Center. There, a lawyer, a nurse and a former drug dealer now confined to a wheelchair from a shotgun blast teach a 15-day "guerrilla survival" or violence-prevention course to D.C. students. Surely there are other responsible adults in the city who can help show youths how to avoid or get out of situations that can result in death and permanent scars, both physical and psychological.