To determine longitudinal patterns of handgun-carrying behavior among urban American youth and identify modifiable risk factors associated with distinct carrying patterns that should be targeted at different life stages.
Using panel data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, we estimated longitudinal trajectories of handgun carrying among urban Americans, who carried a handgun at least once between 1997 and 2011 (N = 1,574). Multinomial logistic regression analyses examined risk factors associated with handgun-carrying trajectory groups during late adolescence (ages 16–20), emerging adulthood (ages 20–24), and young established adulthood (ages 24–28).
Group-based trajectory analyses identified four groups: Declining (35.0%, N = 560), bell-shaped (35.5%; N = 561), late-initiating (19.6%; N = 303), and high-persistent (9.9%; N = 150). During late adolescence, lower risks of mental health problems, hard drug use, police arrest, and presence of a gang in the neighborhood or school differentiated the late-initiating group from the other higher risk groups. During emerging and young established adulthood, higher risks of alcohol use, police arrest, and presence of a gang in the neighborhood or school were associated with trajectory groups with higher likelihood of handgun carrying than the declining group.
There are more than one profile of adolescents and young adults who carry handguns. Preventive interventions should have distinct priorities that address different patterns of handgun-carrying behavior at different life stages.