Guns in Young Hands: A Survey of Urban Teenagers’ Attitudes and Behaviors Related to Handgun Violence

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Guns in Young Hands: A Survey of Urban Teenagers’ Attitudes and Behaviors Related to Handgun Violence

Category: Behavior, Firearm Availability, Youth|Journal: The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery|Author: B Kennedy, D Hemenway, J Bergstein, R Ander, S Quaday|Year: 1996


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


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.


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 sup 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.”


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.