Objectives: The purpose of this study was to identify the behavioral, psychosocial, and demographic predictors of self-reported weapon carrying among secondary school students who attend urban public schools.
Methods: Self-reported weapon carrying was measured in a schoolwide anonymous health survey conducted in two demographically comparable high schools in 1992, in Boston, Massachusetts. Indicators of self-perception, depression, stressful life events, and adolescent risk behaviors of substance use and sexual behavior, along with self-reported weapon carrying, were measured. The students in both schools were racially heterogeneous, with the majority of about 80% from black or Hispanic backgrounds. A predictive model was developed using a forward stepwise logistic regression model in one inner-city high school, and tested in a second high school.
Results: Self-reported lifetime weapon carrying was 32% overall. The major predictors of weapon carrying among urban secondary school students are a combination of demographic, psychosocial, behavioral, and school-related factors. This analysis indicates consistency in eight markers predictive of weapon carrying: lower age, male gender, regular marijuana use, sexual experience, having witnessed a crime, having skipped school, suicidal ideation, and having hit or "beat up" someone. Race parental education, and family composition were not significant predictors. Significant predictors of weapon carrying were marijuana use and sexual experience, each of which was consistently high in both schools.
Conclusions: The model-building and validation presented in this study provide empirical evidence for three important conclusions. First, weapon carrying is associated with multiple and interrelated factors which include demographic, psychosocial, behavioral, and school-related characteristics of high school-age adolescents. Second, students with more risk factors are more likely to carry a weapon, suggesting that the variables are independent markers. Third, this study identified marijuana use and being sexually experienced as both highly predictive of weapon carrying. Implications of this study for prevention point to the need for comprehensive multidisciplinary services in high school that include mental health counseling as well as health education efforts aimed at behavior change.