How Many High Schoolers Are Packing Heat?July 30, 2022
Certain high school-age students, especially those with adverse life experiences, were more likely to report carrying guns for non-recreational purposes in a CDC survey.
Gun carrying during the previous 12 months was reported by 1 in 15 boys and 1 in 50 girls surveyed in 2017 and 2019, a study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found.
The practice was significantly more likely among those who had a history of violence-related experiences (adjusted prevalence ratio [aPR] range 1.5-10.1), suicidal ideation or attempts (aPR range 1.8-3.5), or substance use (aPR range 4.2-5.6).
It was also more common among boys (25.9%) and girls (11.2%) who had been injured or threatened with a weapon on school property, Thomas Simon, PhD, from the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta, and colleagues reported.
Gun carrying occurred at the highest frequency in three racial/ethnic groups: non-Hispanic Black (10.6%), Hispanic (7.2%), and non-Hispanic white (6.1%).
“When variations in gun carrying across racial and ethnic groups and in relation to youth behaviors and experiences are reviewed, consideration of the larger context is important,” the authors posited.
“Social and structural conditions (e.g., concentrated poverty, high crime rates, and economic or residential instability) are associated with youth violence and contribute to inequities in violence among racial and ethnic minority populations,” they noted. “Further, youths who have experienced violence, discrimination, or racism might feel an increased need for protection, might be unwilling or unable to rely on law enforcement, and might carry a gun for self-protection.”
Yet youth gun carrying is associated with risk for serious injury or death.
The second leading cause of death among youths 14-17 is suicide and the third is homicide, the authors noted. They suggest that understanding youth gun carrying and its associated outcomes can help prevention in the future.
From 2019 to 2020, the rate of firearm-related deaths among children and teenagers ages 1 to 19 years increased by 13.5%, causing it to become the leading cause of death in that age group. This phenomenon was largely driven by the 33.4% overall increase in the rate of firearm-related homicides during this time frame.
The present study was conducted using data from the updated measure of gun carrying in the 2017 and 2019 CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to determine prevalence of gun carrying for reasons other than hunting or sport among high school students under the age of 18. Survey data from 21,812 high school students were collected in an independent three-stage cluster sample design to achieve a nationally representative sample.
Simon’s group acknowledged that the YRBS data were cross-sectional, leaving the temporal order of association in the findings undetermined. Self-reported data could also be inaccurate. Finally, YRBS did not collect contextual data on gun carrying, such as how the gun was acquired.
The researchers suggest additional research in order to identify ways of preventing gun carrying among youths, especially those at a high risk of violence.
No conflicts of interest were reported.