Purpose: To identify factors associated with an increased prevalence of assault-related firearm injuries in male adolescents.
Methods: This study is a retrospective comparison of two samples of adolescent males from the same geographic localities regarding their involvement in the juvenile justice system (court involvement) and injury status (current or prior firearm injury at the time of the study). The subjects included adolescent male patients admitted to an urban, Level I trauma center for assault-related firearm injuries (court-involved and noncourt- involved, n = 65); and incarcerated juvenile offenders (prior firearm injury and no known firearm injury, n = 267).
Results: Two-thirds of the male assault-related pediatric firearm injury victims treated over a two-year period were involved in the juvenile justice system (court involved). Court-involved adolescents were almost 22 times more likely to have sustained an assault-related firearm injury, when compared to noncourt-involved patients with firearm injuries. Additional analysis documented recent substance use and/or involvement in criminal offenses in 82% of the victims. For most of the juvenile offenders (88%), court involvement preceded their injuries. Analysis of the injury patterns revealed an increased prevalence of truncal injuries (injuries to thorax or abdomen) in the court-involved victims, when compared to their noncourt-involved peers (40% and 14% for the court-involved and noncourt-involved samples, respectively; p <.05). Incarceration was associated with a 17-fold increase in the firearm injury prevalence over the court-involved, but not incarcerated, sample.
Conclusions: These results suggest that involvement in substance use and/or the criminal justice system is associated with an increased risk of firearm injuries in male adolescents, and that an increased level of involvement in the juvenile justice system is associated with a concomitant increase in firearm injuries.