What Prompts Youths to Carry Guns?

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Specifying the Role of Exposure to Violence and Violent Behavior on Initiation of Gun Carrying: A Longitudinal Test of Three Models of Youth Gun Carrying

Journal of Interpersonal Violence

 African-American youths who live in extreme poverty are more likely to start carrying guns if they have both witnessed violence and participated in violence, according to a new study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.  The study, led by Richard Spano of Indiana University, involved youths in Mobile, Ala., who either had participated in violent behavior or reported witnessed violent behavior, in an effort to determine which had the greater effect on a youth’s decision to begin carrying a gun.

Participants in the study, which began with more than 2,000 youths, were drawn from two public housing development in Mobile, Ala., and youths who lived in other poor neighborhoods. The levels of poverty varied from 57 percent to 91 percent.  More than 2,000 youths were interviewed in the first wave of interviews; about 1,500 were interviewed in the second wave.  The analysis focused on a total of 1,069 youth who had not carried a gun at the time of the first interviews.

At the time of the initial interviews, about 43 percent of youths had engaged in violence and about 46 percent had been exposed to violence.

Violent behavior was defined as being in a fight, cutting or otherwise injuring someone, fighting while drunk or high on drugs or having sexual intercourse with someone against their will.  Witnessing violence included being threatened with a gun, shot at, or having a family member shot at.

Eight percent of the study subjects self-reported having begun to carry a gun by the second interview. Youths who had participated in violent behavior were 76 percent more likely to have carried a gun by the time of the second interview than youths who had not been involved in violence. But youths who had been exposed to violence and participated in violent behavior were 2.5 times more likely to start gun carrying by the second interview, compared with youths who had neither engaged in nor were exposed to violent behavior.

The first results support the so-called “stepping stone” theory of gun carrying initiation, the second supports the cumulative risk-factor theory of why youths begin carrying guns.

The study was released online by the Journal of Interpersonal Violence.

To read a free copy of the abstract, click here.