Violence exposure linked to gun carrying among teens

Teens who see violence more likely to carry guns.


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Firearms continue to be a leading cause of death among youth in the United States. Understanding the factors influencing firearm carriage among teenagers is crucial for developing effective prevention strategies. This study aimed to examine the association between witnessing firearm violence and firearm carriage among adolescents

A new study by the University of Michigan reveals that teenagers who witness various forms of violence are more prone to carrying firearms. The research, conducted in collaboration with the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, highlights that exposure to violence, regardless of whether it involves guns, significantly correlates with firearm carriage among youth aged 14-18.

The study becomes increasingly significant, considering that firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States, with over 4,700 deaths in 2021 alone. By analyzing data from a national survey encompassing over 2,100 U.S. teens, the researchers emphasize that reducing exposure to violence could serve as a vital mechanism for breaking the cycles of violence within teenage populations.

A recent study discovered that 14% of the participants had witnessed firearm-related violence. In comparison, 66% had witnessed non-firearm-related violence within 12 months. The research revealed that those who witnessed firearm-related violence, such as using a gun to threaten someone, were 3.7 times more likely to carry a firearm than those who had not witnessed any gun violence.

Similarly, those who witnessed non-firearm-related violence, such as physical harm inflicted on someone, were 4.3 times more likely to carry a firearm than those who had not. Interestingly, there was no correlation between witnessing gun-related violence and witnessing non-gun-related violence, indicating that these are distinct exposures with separate impacts.

Rebeccah Sokol, U-M assistant professor of social work and co-director of the training and education core at the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, said, “This study highlights the importance of identifying the unique circumstances that link these two different types of violence exposures to youth firearm carriage. In doing so, we can better understand why young people must carry firearms, provide intervention support and strategies, and reduce youth firearm injury.”

The latest issue of Preventive Medicine features findings emphasizing the importance of reducing exposure to violence, both firearm-related and non-firearm-related, to decrease firearm carriage among teenagers. The study suggests that intervention strategies should address both types of violence and their specific links to firearm carriage. By analyzing the distinctions between different forms of violence, researchers can identify commonalities, motivations, and perceptions among youth who carry guns.

The study underscores the significance of researching firearm-related behavior to promote safer communities. Marc Zimmerman, co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, stresses the importance of these findings in advancing efforts to create safer environments at both state and national levels.

This study holds the potential to aid researchers in comprehending the avenues to disrupt the cycle of firearm violence and formulate effective, evidence-based strategies to tackle the leading cause of death among American youth. The research received funding from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development.

This study emphasizes the urgent need to address exposure to violence as a critical factor in preventing firearm carriage among teenagers. By understanding the pathways interrupting the cycle of firearm violence, evidence-based strategies can be developed to tackle the leading cause of death among U.S. youth. Further research and intervention efforts are necessary to create safer communities and protect the well-being of adolescents.

Journal Reference:

  1. Rebeccah L. Soko, Maya Haasz, et al., The association between witnessing firearm violence and firearm carriage: Results from a national study of teens. Preventive Medicine. DOI:https:10.1016/j.ypmed.2023.107516