Background: Drive-by shootings by violent street gangs contribute to early morbidity and mortality among adolescents and children in Los Angeles. This study attempted to determine the frequency of this problem and the population at greatest risk. We also studied the most frequently injured areas of the body, the seasons in which the most shootings occurred, the most common sites for drive-by shootings, and the types of firearms used.
Methods: We retrospectively reviewed the files of the Gang Information Section of the Los Angeles Police Department to identify all drive-by shootings in Los Angeles in 1991 in which a child or adolescent under the age of 18 was shot at, injured, or killed.
Results: A total of 677 adolescents and children were shot at, among whom 429 (63 percent) had gunshot wounds and 36 (5.3 percent) died from their injuries. Three hundred three of those with gunshot wounds (71 percent) were gang members. Arms and legs were the areas of the body most commonly injured. Handguns were the most frequently used type of firearm. All the homicide victims were African American or Hispanic, and 97 percent were boys. African American and Hispanic children and adolescents, especially male gang members, had a significantly higher risk than their Asian and white counterparts of injury and death from drive-by shootings in Los Angeles (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Drive-by shootings involving adolescents and children are frequent in Los Angeles. Although Los Angeles may be an atypical case, understanding why violent street gangs form, preventing causes of violence, and limiting access to firearms are essential steps in preventing this serious problem.