Guns in young hands: a survey of urban teenagers' attitudes and behaviors related to handgun violence

J Trauma. 1996 Nov;41(5):794-8. doi: 10.1097/00005373-199611000-00005.


Objective: To determine the nature and causes of gun violence among urban young people.

Methods: We conducted a confidential survey of 1,219 7th and 10th graders in Boston and Milwaukee, regarding their attitudes and behaviors toward violence and handguns.

Results: Twenty-nine percent have had a member of their immediate family shot, 42% could get a gun if they wanted, 28% have handled a gun without adult knowledge or supervision, 17% have carried a concealed gun, and 3% reported bringing a gun to school in the past 30 days. Nine percent admitted smoking cigarettes in the past week, 11% admitted smoking marijuana. Twenty-five percent were attacked or threatened within the past year. Reasons for gun carrying were mostly related to perceived safety/threats/revenge (73%), followed by casual handling (17%), hunting (4%), being cool (3%), target practice (2%), and gangs (1%). The following factors were significantly correlated with gun handling by chi 2 analysis, at p < 0.001 (percentage of respondents admitting unsupervised gun handling shown in parentheses): male (39%) versus female (19%); 10th graders (35%) versus 7th graders (24%) seat-belt nonusers (35%) versus users (20%); students who state they have poor grades (39%) versus good grades (26%); cigarette smokers (61%) versus nonsmokers (25%); have a gun in the home (46%) versus no gun in the home (23%). Also strongly correlated in multivariate analysis were violence exposure, having been arrested, and beliefs that "gun carrying is a good idea," or that "only cowards back down from a fight."

Conclusions: Handgun availability and use are high among urban youth; gun carrying is mostly related to safety concerns and easy access, rather than to hunting or sport. This may be a cause of high handgun injury rates in this group. Gun injury prevention programs must address youth safety concerns along with handgun availability.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Boston
  • Data Collection
  • Demography
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Firearms*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Marijuana Abuse / epidemiology
  • Psychology, Adolescent*
  • Risk Factors
  • Seat Belts / statistics & numerical data
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Social Values
  • Urban Population
  • Violence*
  • Wisconsin