Urban High School Youth and Handguns A School-Based Survey

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Urban High School Youth and Handguns A School-Based Survey

Category: Behavior, Firearm Availability, Youth|Journal: JAMA|Author: C Callahan, F Rivara|Year: 1992


To determine the prevalence of handgun ownership among urban high school youth and investigate associations with socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and deviant behaviors.


Survey of half of the Seattle, Wash, public high schools, which enroll 50% of the school district’s 11th-grade students (N=970).

Main Outcome Measures

Self-reports of handgun ownership, perceived access to handguns, racial/ethnic identity, social status (Hollingshead’s Two Factor Index of Social Position), and social deviance (Seattle Self-Report Instrument) were determined.


Thirty-four percent of the students reported easy access to handguns (47% of males, 22% of females) and 6.4% reported owning a handgun (11.4% of males, 1.5% of females). Reported firearm experiences indicated a high rate of handgun utilization: 33% of handgun owners had fired at someone, 9.7% of female students reported a firearm homicide or suicide in family members or close friends, and 6% of male students reported carrying a handgun to school sometime in the past. Handgun ownership was more common among students who reported deviant behaviors. Adjusting for age, gender, and racial/ethnic group and controlling for covariation among the problem behaviors, gang membership (odds ratio [OR], 8.8; 95% confidence interval [Cl], 3.7 to 20.8), sentencing by a judge (OR, 4.6; 95% Cl, 1.3 to 15.5), selling drugs (OR, 3.7; 95% Cl, 1.8 to 7.8), suspension or expulsion from school (OR, 3.5; 95% CI, 1.7 to 7.0), and assault and battery (OR, 2.5; 95% Cl, 1.1 to 5.9) were associated with handgun ownership. However, 22% of male handgun owners did not report any of the above behaviors.


The availability of handguns to the urban high school students surveyed is pervasive, and it is not limited to high-risk groups.