Initiation Age, Cumulative Prevalence, and Longitudinal Patterns of Handgun Carrying Among Rural Adolescents: A Multistate Study

J Adolesc Health. 2020 Apr;66(4):416-422. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2019.11.313. Epub 2020 Jan 25.


Purpose: Adolescent handgun carrying is a behavioral marker for youth interpersonal conflicts and an intervention point for violence prevention. Our knowledge about the epidemiology of adolescent handgun carrying mainly pertains to urban settings. Evidence on the initiation age, cumulative prevalence, and longitudinal patterns of this behavior and on handgun-related norms and peer behavior among male and female rural adolescents is scant.

Methods: We used data from the control arm of the Community Youth Development Study, a community-randomized controlled trial of the Communities That Care prevention system. Annually, 1,039 males and 963 females were surveyed from Grade 6 (2005) to age 19 years (2012) in 12 rural towns across seven U.S. states.

Results: In Grade 6, 11.5% of males and 2.8% of females reported past-year handgun carrying. Between Grade 6 and age 19 years, 33.7% of males and 9.6% of females reported handgun carrying at least once. Among participants who ever reported handgun carrying, 34.0% of males and 29.3% of females did so for the first time in Grade 6. Among participants who ever reported handgun carrying, 54.6% of males and 71.7% of females did so only one time over the seven study assessments. Greater proportions of participants who reported handgun carrying than those who did not do so endorsed prohandgun norms and had a peer who carried among both males (Grade 10: prevalence difference = 57%; 95% CI: 46%-67%) and females (Grade 10: prevalence difference = 45%; 95% CI: 12%-78%).

Conclusions: Rural adolescent handgun carrying is not uncommon and warrants etiologic research for developing culturally appropriate and setting-specific prevention programs.

Keywords: Adolescent; Female; Firearms; Longitudinal studies; Rural population; Weapons.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Firearms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Rural Population*
  • Sex Distribution
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Violence
  • Young Adult