Objective: To determine the prevalence of handgun ownership among urban high school youth and investigate associations with socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and deviant behaviors.
Design: Survey of half of the Seattle, Wash, public high schools, which enroll 50% of the school district's 11th-grade students (N = 970).
Main outcome measures: Self-reports of handgun ownership, perceived access to handguns, racial/ethnic identity, social status (Hollingshead's Two Factor Index of Social Position), and social deviance (Seattle Self-Report Instrument) were determined.
Results: Thirty-four percent of the students reported easy access to handguns (47% of males, 22% of females) and 6.4% reported owning a handgun (11.4% of males, 1.5% of females). Reported firearm experiences indicated a high rate of handgun utilization: 33% of handgun owners had fired at someone, 9.7% of female students reported a firearm homicide or suicide in family members or close friends, and 6% of male students reported carrying a handgun to school sometime in the past. Handgun ownership was more common among students who reported deviant behaviors. Adjusting for age, gender, and racial/ethnic group and controlling for covariation among the problem behaviors, gang membership (odds ratio [OR], 8.8; 95% confidence interval [CI], 3.7 to 20.8), sentencing by a judge (OR, 4.6; 95% CI, 1.3 to 15.5), selling drugs (OR, 3.7; 95% CI, 1.8 to 7.8), suspension or expulsion from school (OR, 3.5; 95% CI, 1.7 to 7.0), and assault and battery (OR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.1 to 5.9) were associated with handgun ownership. However, 22% of male handgun owners did not report any of the above behaviors.
Conclusion: The availability of handguns to the urban high school students surveyed is pervasive, and it is not limited to high-risk groups.