Objectives: To learn how, when, where, and why juvenile offenders acquire guns.
Design: Following acquisition of informed consent, we conducted semistructured interviews between June and November 1995 with a convenience sample of 63 juvenile offenders aged 13 through 18 years, each of whom was incarcerated at a detention center in metropolitan Atlanta, Ga.
Setting: Five detention centers in metropolitan Atlanta.
Main outcome measures: Frequency of handgun acquisition and use, age at and method of first handgun acquisition, feelings experienced when carrying guns, development of gun-carrying behavior, drug use, and gang membership.
Results: The mean age of respondents was 15.7 years. Forty-one male and 12 female respondents had owned a gun. Eighty-four percent of gun carriers acquired their first gun before the age of 15 years; more than half received their first gun passively, without any specific plan to do so. Adolescents who purposefully obtained their first handgun were more likely to become frequent or constant carriers. Forty percent felt safer and 40% said they felt more energized, excited, or powerful while carrying a gun. However, 34% reported increased anxiety about getting caught. Almost all stated that guns are readily available from a wide range of sources.
Conclusion: Knowledge of the developmental patterns of gun carrying by delinquent adolescents could be useful in formulating effective strategies to reduce firearm violence.