Background: Access to firearms among delinquent youths poses significant risks to community safety. The purpose of the study was to describe how a group of criminally involved youths obtained guns.
Methods: Youths were randomly selected from a juvenile justice facility to participate in a semistructured, anonymous interview. Transcripts were coded and analyzed with the aid of textual analysis software.
Results: Of the 45 participants, 30 had acquired at least 1 gun prior to their most recent incarceration, and 22 had acquired multiple guns. About half of the first gun acquisitions were gifts or finds. The first guns youths acquired were usually obtained from friends or family. The most recent acquisitions were often new, high-caliber guns, and they came from acquaintances or drug addicts. New guns often came from high-volume traffickers. Gun acquisitions from strangers or through "straw purchases" were rare. Though few obtained guns directly through theft, some youths believed their supplier had stolen guns. Youths rarely left their community to obtain a gun.
Conclusions: Guns were readily available to this sample of criminally involved youths through their social networks. Efforts to curtail high-volume, illegal gun traffickers and to recover discarded guns from areas in which illicit drug sales take place could potentially reduce gun availability to high-risk youth.