Although studies have found that youth exposed to violence are more likely to carry guns than non-exposed youth, this association could be due to common causal factors or other pre-existing differences between individuals. In this study, within-individual change models were used to determine whether juvenile offenders exhibit an increased propensity to carry a firearm after being exposed to gun violence and/or non-gun violence. The advantage of this approach is all time-invariant factors are eliminated as potential confounders.
A sample of 1,170 racially/ethnically diverse male juvenile offenders was recruited in Arizona and Pennsylvania (14–19 years old at recruitment). Participants were interviewed every 6 months for 3 years followed by 4 annual assessments. The outcome was gun carrying and the primary predictors were exposure to gun violence and non-gun violence. Time-varying covariates included exposure to peers who carried guns, exposure to peers who engaged in other (non-gun) criminal acts, developmental changes in gun carrying, and changes in gun carrying from incarceration or institutionalization.
Adolescent offenders were significantly more likely to carry a gun in recall periods after exposure to gun violence, but not after exposure to non-gun violence. Effect of gun violence on carrying was significant throughout adolescence and young adulthood and could not be accounted for by time-varying and time-invariant confounders.
Interventions to decrease illegal gun carrying should target young men in medical and mental health settings who experience or witness gun violence and those living in communities with high rates of gun violence.