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Gun Violence and Youth/Young Adults

Literature Review: A product of the Model Programs Guide
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Youths in the United States can be involved with violence as victims, as witnesses/bystanders, or as persons engaging in the violence (David–Ferdon and Simon, 2014; OJJDP, 2014). Violence is the “intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation” (OJJDP, 2014:14). Applying this definition to the scope of this literature review, youth gun violence is when a gun or firearm is present in the process of a youth (ages 10–24) intentionally using force or power to threaten or harm others or themself. Youths are victims of gun violence when they are injured or killed as a consequence of someone (a youth or an adult) intentionally using a gun to threaten or harm them (whether the youth victim was the intended target or not).

This literature review will focus on intentional gun violence involving youths ages 10 to 24 (although the exact age range will depend on the source of information). Gun violence includes homicides (victimization and perpetration), nonfatal injuries, suicides, community violence, and school violence/school shootings. Unintentional gun violence (including accidental injuries or deaths from guns) will not be explored. In addition, the terms gun and firearm will be used interchangeably throughout the review, depending on the terminology in the source of the information.


The scope of the problem of youth gun violence in the United States is reflected by the incidence and prevalence of gun-related homicides, suicides, and nonfatal injuries of youths.

According to the CDC, there were 45,222 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020. Of these, 10,197 deaths were of youths between the ages of 0 and 24 (Lee et al., 2022; CDC, 2021). Even youths who are not hurt or killed by guns but who witness gun violence are likely to experience adverse outcomes later in life (Turner et al., 2019; Finkelhor et al., 2015b). Although mass shootings tend to be the center of national news stories, they account for less than half of 1 percent of gun deaths each year (Luca, Malhotra, and Poliquin, 2016).

Data Sources on Gun Violence

There are several different federal sources of data on gun violence-related fatalities, nonfatal injuries, and suicides. The data sources described in the following pages will be used to define the scope of the gun violence issue, particularly as it pertains to youth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) is an online database that provides fatal and nonfatal injury, violent death, and cost-of-injury data in the United States to interested parties. WISQARS provides an interactive online database providing data on intent of injury, mechanism or cause of the injury (such as firearms), geographic location of the injury, demographic information (that is, sex, race/ethnicity, and age of the victim), and other information. Deaths in these data include homicides, suicides, unintentional deaths, and deaths of undetermined intent.

The CDC’s National Violent Deaths Report System (NVDRS) is a data source that includes hundreds of data elements on violent deaths (including homicides and suicides) that occur in the United States every year. This data source is part of the WISQARS database. Data on violent deaths are collected from a variety of sources, such as law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners, and death certificates (NVDRS Fact Sheet, n.d.).

The CDC’s National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) provides information on births and deaths in the United States. Information is collected from a variety of sources (such as birth certificates, death certificates, and other federal surveys) at the state and national levels (NVSS website, n.d.).

The CDC’s National Syndromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) is a collaboration among the CDC, federal partners, local and state health departments, and other private sectors to collect, analyze, and share electronic data on patients from emergency departments, urgent care centers, and other health-related settings. The NSSP promotes a community of practice among participants and can provide vital information that can serve as an early warning system for public health concerns (CDC, 2022b).

The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) is a nationally representative survey of a sample of U.S. households. The survey collects detailed information about crime victimization, such as whether people were the victims of certain types of crime, whether the victimization was reported to police, when and where the crime occurred, and any injuries sustained (BJS, 2022).

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) System is a nationwide effort of more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies to generate reliable criminal statistics. The Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHRs) dataset is the most detailed of the UCR datasets. It provides specific information about the circumstances of all homicides, including victim and offender demographics (such as age, gender, race, and ethnicity), weapon used, circumstances (such as domestic or gang related), and the date the crime happened (Kaplan, 2023).

For the purpose of this literature review, other sources were used when federal data were not available.

Overall Youth Gun Homicide

In 2020, homicide was the second-leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds (CDC 2023). Over time, the rate of firearm homicides for youth has fluctuated. According to BJS, between 1993 and 2010 the firearm homicide victimization rate declined by 51 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds and by 65 percent for 12- to 17-year-olds (Planty and Truman, 2013). However, data from the CDC’s NVSS show that between 2019 and 2020 there was a 38.5 percent increase in firearm homicides of 10- to 24-year-olds (Kegler et al., 2022).

Youth Victims of Gun Homicide

Firearms were the murder weapon in 92.3 percent of youth homicides in 2020 (CDC2023). The following information, using a variety of data sources, provides greater detail on homicides of youth attributable to firearms: 

  • During 2020, according to the CDC’s WISQARS (2023), homicides with a firearm accounted for 5,966 homicides committed against youths ages 15 to 24.
    • With regard to race, of the 5,966 firearm homicides committed against youth, 68.6 percent were carried out against Black youths, 29.4 percent against white youths, and 2.0 percent against American Indians/Alaska Natives or Asians/Pacific Islanders (CDC, 2023).
    • Regarding ethnicity, of total firearm homicides committed against youth, 81.9 percent were committed against non-Hispanic youth (CDC, 2023).
    • Regarding gender, youth firearm homicide victims are more likely to be male, with 88 percent of firearm homicides committed against males (CDC, 2023). 
  • Data from the CDC WISQARS show that in 2019 the firearm mortality rate of youths ages 15 to 24 was more than 10 times as high as of youths ages 10 to 14 (17.2 versus 1.6 per 100,000 respectively) [Bottiani et al., 2021].
  • In 2020, according to the CDC’s NVDRS (2023) there were 4,693 firearm homicides committed against youths ages 15 to 24.
    • With regard to race, of the 4,693 firearm homicides committed against youths, 72.4 percent were carried out against Black youths, 23.4 percent were carried out against white youths, 1.1 percent against American Indians/Alaska Natives, and 0.7 percent against Asian/Pacific Islanders.
    • Regarding ethnicity, of total firearm homicides committed against youths, 84.2 percent were committed against non-Hispanic youths.
    • Regarding gender, youth firearm homicide victims were more likely to be male, with 88.0 percent of firearm homicides committed against males.
  • Data from the CDC NVSS show that, during 2018–19, 62.5 percent of all firearm homicides of 10- to 19-year-olds were committed in the most populous metropolitan statistical areas in the country (Kegler et al., 2022).

Overall, these trends reflect that youth homicide victims ages 15 to 24 are more likely to be male and Black and to live in highly populous/urban areas (CDC, 2023; Kena and Truman, 2022; Bottiani et al., 2021).

Youths Who Commit Gun Homicides

Based on the UCR SHRs, there were an estimated 5,464 homicides with a firearm committed by known 12- to 24-year-olds in 2020 (Puzzanchera, Chamberlin, and Kang, 2021).

  • Of the estimated 5,464 homicides committed by known youths, 66.9 percent of the cases involved a Black individual, 29.3 percent of cases involved a white individual, 1.8 percent were American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, or Pacific Islanders, and 1.8 percent of cases involved individuals whose race was unknown (Puzzanchera, Chamberlin, and Kang, 2021). The UCR SHRs demographic data cannot be broken down by ethnicity (Hispanic versus non-Hispanic).
  • Males accounted for more than 91.6 percent of the known 12- to 24-year-olds who committed a homicide with a firearm in 2020 (Puzzanchera, Chamberlin, and Kang, 2021).
  • The estimated number of firearm-related homicides committed by known youths (ages 12–17) more than quadrupled between 1984 and 1994, from 543 to 2,271. Then, from 1994 to 2001 the rate of firearm-related homicides committed by youths declined. Firearm-related homicides by juveniles increased by 50 percent from 2001 to 2007 but decreased from 2007 to 2014 by 39 percent (OJJDP, 2016). However, since reaching a low rate in 2013, the number of firearm-related homicides committed by known juveniles (ages 17 and under) increased 68 percent through 2019 (Puzzanchera, Hockenberry, and Sickmund, 2022:68).

Overall, these trends reflect that youths (ages 12 to 24 years) who commit the majority of firearm-related homicides are more likely to be Black and male (Puzzanchera, Chamberlin, and Kang, 2021). 

Nonfatal Gun Violence

There is conflicting information about whether the trend in nonfatal firearm-related violence has been increasing or decreasing over time (Kena and Truman, 2022; Truman and Langton, 2015).

Disparities between CDC data—based primarily on reports from U.S. emergency departments—and the BJS NCVS could explain differences between the reported trends. Planty and Truman (2013:11) acknowledge the differences in NCVS and CDC trend data. Their report observed that NCVS is a residential household survey and does not include hidden populations such as those who are homeless or institutionalized (for example, jails or mental health facilities). Further, some of the CDC estimates used to calculate injury trends may be based on small sample sizes and should be interpreted with caution (Bottiani et al., 2021).

Using available data from these sources, the following trends emerge:

  • According to CDC WISQARS estimates, there was an increase in the rate of nonfatal firearm gunshot injuries (including self-harm and accidental injuries) for youths ages 15 to 19 from 2012 to 2018 (from 53.4 per 1,000 to 72.6 per 100,000). There also was an increase for youths ages 20 to 24 from 2012 to 2016 (from 94.5 to 141.2 per 100,000). Notably, data for certain years are missing because they were unstable owing to either small sample size or the coefficient of variation of the estimate being below 30 percent (CDC, 2023).
  • According to the CDC’s NSSP, from 2018 to 2019, males and females ages 15 to 24 years had higher firearm injury-related emergency department visit rates and saw a significant increase in rates of emergency department visits related to a firearm injury, compared with those in other age groups. These injuries include unintentional, intentional self-directed, assault, legal interventions, terrorism, and injuries of undetermined intent (Zwald et al., 2022).
  • The NCVS reported that the rate for intentional nonfatal firearm victimizations against youths ages 12 to 17 declined by about 36 percent between 2001 and 2011 (from 2.2 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000) and declined by about 24 percent for 18- to 24-year-olds (from 6.8 per 1,000 to 5.2 per 1,000) [Planty and Truman, 2013]. These rates continued to decline between 2014 and 2018. During this last period, the rate for nonfatal firearm victimizations against youths ages 12 to 17 decreased to 1.0 per 1,000. Additionally, the rate against 18- to 24-year-olds decreased to 3.8 per 1,000 (Kena and Truman, 2022).
    • Though the rate for 18- to 24-year-olds decreased according to the NCVS, this rate was still the highest compared with all other age groups. For example, from 2014 to 2018, youths ages 18 to 29 represented 19.4 percent of the U.S. population, but they were 27.9 percent of persons committing crimes and 38.9 percent of victims in incidents of nonfatal firearm violence (Kena and Truman, 2022).

Youth Gun Suicide

According to the CDC’s NVSS, suicide was the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States in 2019; however, it was the second-leading cause of death in youths 10 to 24 years old (CDC, 2021).

  • According to CDC WISQARS estimates, of the 6,643 youths ages 10 to 24 who died by suicide in 2020, slightly more than half (3,397) were carried out with a firearm (CDC, 2023).
  • Of the 3,397 suicides with a firearm by youths 10 to 24 years old in 2020, 78.7 percent were white, 15.7 percent were Black, and 5.6 percent were by American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, and Pacific Islanders (CDC, 2023).
  • Of total firearm suicides in 2020 of youths ages 10 to 24, 84.7 percent were non-Hispanic (CDC, 2023).
  • Males ages 10 to 24 years old (88 percent) were more likely than their female counterparts to die by suicide using a firearm (12 percent) [CDC, 2023]. 

Overall, the numbers suggest that the majority of suicides committed by 10- to 24-year-olds with a firearm are male and white.

Community Gun Violence

While youths can be directly exposed to gun violence—through victimization or perpetration—they also can be indirectly exposed, by witnessing gun violence in their communities (Turner et al., 2019; Listenbee et al., 2012). Youths who witness gun violence experience similar negative psychological and physical harm as youths who have had direct exposure (Turner et al., 2019; Futures Without Violence, 2016). There are various forms of violence that youths may witness in their lifetimes, including assaults, physical abuse, thefts, and shootings. According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (most recently conducted in 2014), about 38 percent of children ages 17 and younger have witnessed violence in the family or the community in their lifetimes (Finkelhor et al., 2015a). Regarding specific exposure to gun violence:  

  • About 8 percent of children reported being exposed to a shooting (including hearing gunshots or seeing someone shot) in their lifetimes, with children ages 14 to 17 reporting the highest levels of exposure to a shooting (13 percent). Additionally, boys were more likely than girls to report exposure to shootings (Finkelhor et al., 2015a).
  • Regarding youths between the ages of 2 and 17, Black youths and youths living in urban communities had higher rates of witnessing gun violence (21.4 percent and 20.9 percent respectively) and hearing gunshots in public (51.6 percent and 48.3 percent respectively), compared with non-Black and non-urban youths (Bottiani et al., 2021; Turner et al., 2019).
  • Youth exposure to shootings decreased between 2008 and 2014, although this change has been minimal (Finkelhor et al., 2014; Finkelhor et al., 2015a).
  • Youths are more likely to witness assault in their communities in their lifetimes than to be exposed to a shooting (28 percent, compared with 8 percent, respectively) [Finkelhor et al., 2015a].

Overall, although exposure to gun violence is not as prevalent as other forms of community violence, it still is a potentially traumatic event that many youths will experience in their lifetimes.

School Gun Violence

Fewer than 2 percent of homicides of youths ages 5 to 18 occur on school grounds (CDC, 2021; Planty and Truman, 2013). Although school shootings are rare, most homicides against youth at school were committed with a firearm (Planty and Truman, 2013). Additionally, 95 percent of multiple-victim incidents in schools between 2009 and 2018 were firearm related (Hamlin, 2021).

  • About 3 percent of students in grades 9–12 reported carrying a weapon at least 1 day during the previous 30 days on school property in 2019, a decrease from 6 percent in 2009 (Irwin et al., 2021).
  • In 2019, 4 percent of students ages 12 to 18 reported having access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, which was a decrease from 6 percent in 2009 (Irwin et al, 2021; Zhang, Musu–Gillette, and Oudekerk, 2016).
  • White male students were more likely than any other demographic to have carried a gun (Irwin et al., 2021; Kann et al., 2016).
  • In 2019, 7 percent of high school students reported that they were threatened or injured with a weapon—such as a gun, knife, or club—on school property during the past year (Irwin et al., 2021).

International Comparisons of Youth Gun Violence

According to the United Nations, 54 percent of homicides worldwide in 2017 were carried out using a firearm (UNODC, 2019). In addition, according to a World Health Organization global status report on violence prevention, 43 percent of annual homicides worldwide involve youths ages 10 to 29 (Butchart and Mikton, 2014). Youths are disproportionately affected by homicide regardless of country level of income (Goldstick et al., 2019; Mikton et al., 2016); however, the youth firearm homicide rate in the United States is higher than other high-income countries (e.g., Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom) [Bottiani et al., 2021; Bushman et al., 2016;]. For example, the United States has rates of homicide by firearm 37 times as high as 12 other comparable nations (Goldstick et al., 2019).

Risk factors are personal traits, characteristics of the environment, or conditions in the family, school, or community that are linked to youths’ likelihood of engaging in delinquency and other problem behaviors (Murray and Farrington 2010) [for more information, see the Model Programs Guide literature review on Risk Factors for Delinquency]. Several risk factors for firearm violence perpetration have been identified at the individual, peer, family, and community levels (Schmidt et al., 2019). This body of research includes studies of large, nationally representative samples of children and youth (for example, Schleimer et al., 2023; Shetgiri et al., 2016; Simon et al., 2022) and specific, high-risk samples in high-risk neighborhoods (e.g., Carter et al., 2013; Hohl et al., 2017; Rowan et al., 2019). Some risk factors have demonstrated a stronger influence than others, and researchers have found that accumulation of multiple risk factors increases risk for firearm-related violence perpetration, victimization, and suicide (Mmari, Blum, and Teufel–Shone, 2010; Reingle, Jennings, and Maldonado–Molina, 2012; Shetgiri et al., 2016; Williamson, Guerra, and Tynan, 2014).

These risk factors often influence firearm-related outcomes in complex ways and through intricate pathways, which may vary among youths of different ages, backgrounds, races, genders, urbanicity, and experiences (Collings et al., 2023; Culyba et al., 2018; Schleimer et al., 2023; Schmidt et al., 2019; Shetgiri et al., 2016). For example, the Flint Adolescent Study (a longitudinal study of risk and protective factors associated with substance use) found that exposure to violence indirectly increased the risk for carrying a firearm by decreasing youths’ beliefs that they would graduate from high school and continue education after high school (Lee et al., 2020). However, there is little research examining these pathways (Schmidt et al., 2019). Instead, most research tends to examine the direct effects of risk factors on gun-related outcomes.

This section briefly describes risk factors for firearm carrying, firearm violence perpetration and victimization, and firearm suicide among youth. This section pertains to youth firearm violence in general and does not focus on youth who commit mass shootings. This section also does not focus on risk factors related to firearm violence victimization and firearm suicide among youth, as there is limited research on those factors (Knopov et al., 2019; Miller, Azrael, and Hemenway, 2002; Kaufman et al., 2021). The risk factors with the strongest evidence for influencing youth firearm violence appear to be

  1. Exposure to violence
  2. Delinquent peers and violent social networks
  3. Involvement in crime, delinquency, and violence
  4. Availability of firearms [Beardslee et al., 2021; Goldstick et al., 2019; Lee et al., 2020; Mattson, Sigel, and Mercado, 2020; Oliphant et al., 2019; Schleimer et al., 2023; Simon et al., 2022; Spano and Bolland, 2013; Wamser–Nanney et al., 2019]

Other risk factors are also described here.

Exposure to Violence and Victimization

Exposure to violence refers to direct exposure (personal victimization) or indirect exposure (witnessing or hearing about the victimization of a family member, friend, or neighbor) [Zimmerman and Posick, 2016]. There is a large body of evidence examining the relationship between exposure to violence and subsequent aggressive and violent offending (Farrell and Zimmerman, 2018; Fitton and Fazel, 2020; Hawkins et al., 2000; Wright et al., 2016). Researchers also have identified relationships between exposure to violence and gun-related outcomes (e.g., Beardslee et al., 2021; Carter et al., 2013; Henrich, Brookmeyer, and Shahar 2005; Lee et al., 2020; Oliphant et al., 2019; Pardini et al., 2021; Simon et al., 2022; Teplin et al. 2020).

For example, a study of male youths from the Pathways to Desistence study (a longitudinal study of individuals who were found guilty of a serious offense at ages of 14–18), who reported shooting or shooting at someone, found that witnessing non–gun violence and being a victim of non–gun violence increased the likelihood of later gun violence perpetration (Rowan et al., 2019). Analysis of data from the Mobile Youth Survey (a longitudinal study of youths ages 10–18 from high-poverty neighborhoods in Mobile, AL) found that youths who had experienced violent victimization were more likely than youths who had not had those experiences to initiate gun carrying when they were older (Spano and Bolland, 2013). Similarly, examination of data from the Flint Youth Injury study (which involved drug-using youths ages 14–24) found that violence victimization by a partner or a peer, with a firearm or other weapon, predicted initiation of firearm assault behavior (Goldstick et al., 2019).

Studies of large, national samples also find this relationship. Analysis of data from the CDC’s 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) indicated that gun carrying among males and females was more prevalent among those who had been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property (25.9 percent and 11.2 percent, respectively) than it was among those who had not (5.2 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively) [Simon et al., 2022]. YRBS data also indicated that students who had experienced dating violence, who had experienced sexual violence, or who missed school because of safety concerns were all more likely to carry a gun compared with students who had not had these experiences (Simon et al., 2022).

Researchers who examine bullying victimization also find relationships with gun- and other weapon-related outcomes. Data from the 2017 YRBS indicated that high school students who were bullied on school property were more likely to carry a gun than students who were not bullied (Pham et al., 2017; Simckes et al., 2017).

History of Violence and Aggression

Violence perpetration is also strongly related to gun violence (Goldstick et al., 2019; Schleimer et al., 2023). For example, analysis of data from the Flint Youth Injury study found that, among youths who use drugs, those who were aggressive toward their partner or peers were more likely than youths who were not aggressive to initiative firearm assault behavior (Goldstick et al., 2019). Another study found that youths who were more likely to get into serious fights at work or school, more likely to take part in a fight with a group of friends against another group, and more likely to attack someone with the intent to seriously hurt them were also more likely to have carried a handgun in the past 12 months (Schleimer et al., 2023). Similarly, analysis of data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that youths who had been in a physical fight were more likely than youths who had not been in a physical fight to carry a gun (Simon et al., 2022). Finally, a study of more than 1,000 youths in two urban communities in Colorado found that youths who reported engaging in gang fights were five times as likely as those who did not to report having potential access to firearms and that youths who reported perpetrating minor assault were about twice as likely to report having potential access to firearms as youths not reporting this (Mattson, Sigel, and Mercado, 2020).

Access and Availability to Firearms

Part of what enables youths to progress to more deadly forms of violence is their access to firearms, exposure to firearms, and the availability of firearms in their homes and communities (Lizotte et al., 1994; Miller, Azrael, and Hemenway, 2002; Miller, Hemenway, and Azrael, 2007; Oliphant et al., 2019; Williamson, Guerra, and Tynan, 2014). For example, analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health found that gun availability in the home was associated with aggressive weapon-carrying behavior (such as pulling a gun or knife on someone) for Black youth, but not for white or Latino youth (Shetgiri et al., 2016). Some studies have found that access to guns combined with limited parental supervision is a stronger predictor of gun violence than access to guns alone (e.g., Slovak and Singer, 2001).

Poor Future Orientation and Antisocial Beliefs

Youths’ orientation to the future sometimes is examined in research studies as a factor related to several positive and negative outcomes, including gun violence. Future orientation refers to the degree to which an individual thinks about the future, considers the consequences of their actions, and plans ahead before acting. Many of these studies have found that youths who are more likely to prioritize the present and discount their futures are less likely to consider the serious consequences of gun violence and more likely to encounter opportunities where violence occurs (e.g., Hepburn and Hemenway, 2004; Piquero et al., 2005;3). Some studies have found that poor future orientation is associated with firearm carrying (e.g., Lee et al., 2020) and with engaging in gun violence (e.g., Donovan, 2022; Rowan et al., 2019). Similarly, perceived personal rewards for crime is associated with gun violence. Rowan and colleagues (2019) found that youths who had higher perceived personal rewards to engaging in crime were nearly 50 percent more likely to engage in gun violence compared with youths who had lower perceived personal rewards to engaging in crime.

Substance Use

Tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use has been associated with carrying a firearm among youth in several studies (Vaughn et al., 2012; Carter et al., 2013; Oliphant et al., 2019), and regular heavy drinking has been associated with gun violence among youths who have been adjudicated for a serious offense (Pardini et al., 2021). Similarly, a study conducted in Philadelphia, PA, found that substance use at the individual, family, and neighborhood levels was associated with increased odds of adolescent firearm homicide (Hohl et al., 2017).

Delinquent Peers and Involvement in Crime and Delinquency

Involvement in crime and delinquency and having peers who engage in delinquent and violent behavior are also risk factors for firearm-related outcomes (Beardslee et al., 2021; Oliphant et al., 2019). For example, an examination of more than 17,000 youths ages 12–17 in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that youths who sell illicit drugs were more likely than youths who did not to carry a handgun (Vaughn et al., 2012). Analysis of data from more than 1,000 youths from Colorado found that youths who reported having peers who engage in delinquent behavior were six times as likely to report having potential access to firearms as youths who were not, and youths who reported selling drugs were nearly five times as likely to report possessing or carrying a firearm in the past year as youths who did not report selling drugs (Mattson, Sigel, and Mercado, 2020).

Studies of higher-risk populations also have identified these risk factors. Analysis of data from the Flint Youth Injury study found that among young people ages 14 to 24 who associate with peers who engage in delinquent and law violating behavior were more likely to perpetrate firearm assault than those who do not (Goldstick et al., 2019). Similarly, analysis of a sample of youths ages 13 to 17 in three jurisdictions, who had been arrested for the first time for a low or moderate offense, found that prior non–gun theft and property offending was related to gun carrying, as was peer gun carrying (Beardslee et al., 2021). Finally, analysis of males who were adjudicated for serious offenses (ages 14 to 19) with serious delinquency backgrounds found that current peer gun carrying was related to future gun violence (Pardini et al., 2021). The study by Pardini and colleagues (2021) also found that gang membership was a significant risk factor for youths’ engagement in future gun violence. In fact, many previous studies established the relationship between membership in a gang and the increased risk of gun violence perpetration (Katz et al., 2011; Huebner et al., 2016).

Family Factors

Family factors also have been examined to identify their relationship with gun violence. A study of more than 17,000 youths from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that youths who carried handguns were significantly less likely to report a parent being involved in their lives, compared with youths who did not carry handguns (Vaughn et al., 2012). Another study found that boys exposed to poorer parental engagement during childhood were more likely to affiliate with delinquent peers and exhibit externalizing problems during early adolescence, which (in turn) increased their risk of carrying a firearm in later adolescence (Beardslee et al., 2019).

Community Factors

Several community-level factors have been examined with regard to their influence on youth firearm-related outcomes. For example, a study of children’s involvement in firearm assaults and homicides, as documented in pediatric medical charts from a hospital in Georgia, found that gun violence was significantly related to levels of community distress (Tracy et al., 2019). The researchers measured community distress using seven economic indicators:

  1. Percentage of adults without a high school diploma
  2. Percentage of housing that was unoccupied
  3. Percentage of adults not working
  4. Poverty levels
  5. Median household income
  6. Percent change in the number of jobs
  7. Percent change in the number of business establishments

Another study examining survey data from nearly 25 million adolescents across the United States found that adolescent handgun carrying was most common in the most-rural counties, compared with urban counties (Schleimer et al., 2023). Additionally, although use of violence was associated with handgun carrying in all counties, this association was stronger in urban counties than in rural counties.

Some other factors influencing youth gun carrying are perceived levels of community violence (such as neighborhood conflicts), perceived lack of safety, higher perceived levels of firearm ownership, hearing gunshots regularly in the neighborhood, lack of trust in police effectiveness, and elevated levels of neighborhood social and physical disorder (Oliphant et al., 2019; Swaner et al. 2020). Finally, studies of firearm violence in California and Maryland (that did not examine age-specific data) found that several community-level variables predicted interpersonal firearm violence, including poverty, racial–ethnic geographic segregation and isolation, lack of high school education among men age 65+, and the percentage of adults never married (Goin, Rudolph, and Ahern, 2018; Harfouche, Shields, and Curriero, 2023).

Another community-level risk factor for youth is living in an “ecology of danger”—that is, an environment where social interactions are perceived as threatening, and where individuals are normatively seen as having hostile intent with willingness to inflict harm (Fagan and Wilkinson, 1998; Wilkinson and Fagan, 2001). Youths living in these types of communities are more likely to be influenced by the code of the street, which is a set of informal rules for behavior that govern citizens of disadvantaged urban areas (Allen and Lo, 2012). In the most violent of neighborhoods, 

[A]dolescents presume that their counterparts are armed, and if not, could easily become armed. They also assume that other adolescents are willing to use guns, often at a low threshold of provocation.” [Wilkinson and Fagan, 2001:130]   

The influence of these dangerous social norms predicts youth gun carrying (Allen and Lo, 2012) and youth gun violence (Butts et al., 2015; Stewart and Simons, 2006; Swaner et al. 2020).

Resiliency theory indicates that some youths exposed to risk factors do not develop negative, violent behaviors because of the presence and influence of protective factors (Stoddard et al., 2013). Protective factors are the events, opportunities, and experiences in the lives of youth that lessen or buffer against the probability of violence (Resnick, Ireland, and Borowsky, 2004). Protective factors help youths overcome the negative effects of risk factors and are essential in helping compensate for, or protect against, the effects of risk on healthy development (Fergus and Zimmerman, 2005) [for more information, see the Model Programs Guide literature review on Protective Factors Against Delinquency].

Though there has been less research on protective factors than on risk factors for youth firearm violence perpetration, such as possessing or carrying a firearm (Mattson, Sigel, and Mercado, 2020; Oliphant et al., 2019; Schmidt et al., 2019), some studies have identified some protective factors at the individual, family, and school/community levels.

Family Attachment and Parental Monitoring

There are several ways that families can protect youth against firearm violence perpetration. These include providing emotional support and connection, monitoring and supervision, guidance and advice, economic resources and safety, and positive role models (e.g., Henrich, Brookmeyer, and Shahar, 2005; Luthar and Goldstein, 2004; Oliphant et al., 2019). Analysis of data on more than 17,000 youths in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that parental involvement and supervision were associated with a reduced likelihood of handgun carrying. The researchers examined seven measures of parental involvement (e.g., provided help with homework, told youth they were proud of them for something they had done, limited the amount of time youth went out with friends on school nights); each one was associated with a reduced likelihood of handgun carrying (Vaughn et al., 2012). However, some studies have found that this influence varies by demographic characteristics, such as gender, race, and ethnicity (Shetgiri et al., 2016). Still, other studies have found no influence of attachment to parents on firearm possession or carrying when controlling for other risk factors (Mattson, Sigel, and Mercado, 2020).

Relationships With Supportive Adults

In addition to family, youths can form protective relationships with other adults. A study of more than 1,000 boys who were adjudicated for a serious offense found that those who reported having substantive bonds with at least two supportive adults were at lower risk for engaging in gun violence (Pardini et al., 2021).

Individual Protective Factors

Several individual-level protective factors have been identified that influence youth gun violence perpetration. One study found that among males who had been adjudicated for a serious offense, those who reported higher sensitivity to others’ feelings and a desire to help others, those who endorsed religious beliefs as a source of comfort and support, and those who held personal aspirations for achieving conventional adult goals were less likely to later engage in gun violence than males who did not have empathy, religious beliefs, and prosocial aspirations (Pardini et al., 2021).

Community-Level Protective Factors

Studies are less likely to identify community-level protective factors, when compared with community-level risk factors. For example, a study of more than 1,000 youths in two urban communities in Colorado found that neighborhood attachment was not a significant predictor of potential youth firearm access nor of a youth’s possessing or carrying a firearm in the past year, when controlling for risk factors (Mattson, Sigel, and Mercado, 2020). The authors explain that this may be due to the community’s more “distal influences relative to the more proximal influences of the risk factors,” such as peer delinquency and engaging in violence (2020:14). However, some studies have identified community-level protective factors that influence gun carrying and gun violence, such as community assets (e.g., “Where I live, people recognize me and care about me”), enhancing green space in urban neighborhoods, and restoring blighted, vacant land (Branas et al., 2018; Kondo et al., 2017; Ross et al., 2023; Shepley et al., 2019).

Federal Laws

There are numerous federal laws that regulate gun purchases made by licensed sellers:

  • The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 and the Gun Control Act of 1968. These laws created regulations regarding the selling of firearms. Under the Gun Control Act (GCA), businesses selling firearms were required to obtain a federal firearm license (FFL), and interstate sales of firearms were limited to only those sellers with FFLs. In addition, the GCA established several new requirements, such as 
    • Prohibiting certain individuals (for example, those convicted of a felony offense) from buying firearms
    • Making it a crime to sell or transfer a firearm to someone who is forbidden from possessing one
    • Requiring buyers to sign a form stating that they had not been convicted of a felony or were not otherwise disqualified by law from purchasing a gun 
  • However, the GCA did not regulate firearms transfers made by private gun owners (Webster and Wintemute, 2015). The GCA set age restrictions for the purchase and transfer of handguns and long guns (rifles and shotguns): 
    • A person must be at least 18 years old to purchase a long gun from a licensed           gun seller; however, there is no age restriction on a person to possess a long gun     or buy a long gun from a private seller. 
    • A person must be at least 21 years old to purchase a handgun from a licensed gun seller but may be only 18 to be transferred a handgun from someone who is not a licensed gun dealer or to possess a handgun (Webster and Wintemute, 2015; Moe et al., 2020)
  • The Youth Handgun Safety Act. The act was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and decreased the legal age of possessing a handgun established by the GCA from 21 to 18 (OJJDP, 1996). 
  • The Gun-Free Schools Act. This act also took effect in 1994. It was part of the Improving America's Schools Act and amended part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, requiring schools receiving federal education funds to adopt a policy that required expulsion (for no less than 1 year) for any student who brings a firearm to school (OJJDP, 1996; Stuart–Cassel, Nunez, and Chung, 2022).
  • Permit to Purchase. Approximately 13 states have permit-to-purchase (PTP) laws (Gius, 2017), which require individuals to obtain a permit or license (contingent on a background check) before purchasing a handgun, from either licensed businesses or private sellers (Crifasi et al., 2015). PTP laws vary by state; for instance, some states require individuals to appear in person to acquire a permit, while others allow permits to be obtained online or by mail (Webster and Wintemute, 2015). However, these laws wouldn’t directly affect youths under 21—the minimum age set by federal law to purchase a handgun. 
  • Background Checks. Under the Brady Act, sales by private gun owners are exempted from the mandatory background check requirement that applies to licensed gun dealers. However, some states have sought to expand the Brady background check requirement (Rudolph et al., 2015). Approximately 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted stricter background check requirements for private sellers (Rudolph et al., 2015; McClenathan et al., 2018). For example, in Massachusetts, citizens are required by law to report all sales, transfers, inheritances, and losses of firearms to the commonwealth’s Firearms Records Bureau. This law covers private transactions of guns (Braga and Hureau, 2015). 
  • Child Access Prevention Laws. Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws are an example of laws specifically focused on preventing youths from accessing guns. CAP laws make it a crime to store firearms in a way that they can be easily accessible to youth (Webster et al., 2004). These polices generally establish requirements for firearm safety locks; in some states, gun owners may be found criminally liable for negligent gun storage (McClenathan et al., 2018; Miller et al., 2022). Between 1980 and 2019, approximately 29 states passed a CAP law (Hamlin, 2021). CAP laws may vary by state on factors such as the requirements to store a firearm or the criminal liability of gun owners, should a youth gain access to a firearm (which can result in fines, imprisonment, or both) [Anderson and Sabia, 2016].

Researchers, public health officials, and medical experts have suggested that, because of the interrelated individual–familial–community risk factors and the large number of individuals affected, gun violence is a public health issue (IOM and NRC, 2013; Butkus et al., 2014; Byrdsong, Devan and Yamatani, 2015; CDC, 2021; Zwald et al., 2022; Bailey et al., 2022). 

The public health field is concerned with problems that are related to significant levels of morbidity and mortality (for example, viruses, diseases, or other illnesses) in communities and the general public. A public health approach, in general, has three important components: “1) a focus on prevention, 2) a focus on scientific methodology to identify risk and patterns, and 3) multidisciplinary collaboration to address the issue” (IOM and NRC 2013:3).

As laid out by the CDC, a public health approach to violence prevention has four steps:

  1. “Define and monitor the problem” to understand the “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” associated with the violence.
  2. “Identify risk and protective factors” to understand what factors either protect individuals or put them at risk for experiencing or perpetrating violence.
  3. “Develop and test prevention strategies” based on findings from research and local data.
  4. “Assure widespread adoption” that involves implementing effective strategies and assessing whether it addresses the problem of violence. [CDC, 2022]

This approach works to involve different individuals and institutions to address violence and other health problems that affect populations (Hemenway and Miller, 2013; CDC, 2022). Research has found that successful public health efforts are data driven and support those at greatest risk of violence by addressing factors that increase the risk of violence (Webster, 2022).

Public health strategies generally concentrate on the relationships of three elements: 1) the “agent” (or the source of the injury, which in the case of gun violence would be the gun or the person using the gun or both); 2) the “host” (which would be the victim of the gun violence); and 3) the “environment” (which would be the condition under which the violence occurred, including social, physical, or even virtual environments that affect gun policies, norms, and behaviors) [IOM and NRC, 2013].

The public health approach to gun violence prevention recognizes that many public health problems are caused by guns, such as accidents, suicides, intimate-partner violence, and mass shootings (Hemenway and Miller, 2013) and that gun violence may also affect the broader health status of individuals and communities, with studies showing that individuals exposed to gun violence as children had increased likelihood of chronic health issues such as heart disease and diabetes later in life (Byrdsong, Devan, and Yamatani, 2015). Although justice personnel may be primarily responsible for the apprehension, prosecution, and sanctioning of individuals who commit gun violence, a public health approach to combating youth gun violence calls for justice policymakers and practitioners to use a comprehensive, collaborative method that is informed by research from different fields that have successes in reducing and preventing other behavior-related issues (for example, tobacco use and motor vehicle fatalities) [CDC, 2022a; McLean et al., 2019].

An example of a federal initiative influenced by the public health approach is the CDC’s National Centers of Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention. CDC’s Youth Violence Prevention Centers (YVPCs) involve academics partnering with the community to advance both research and practice of youth violence prevention. The YVPCs were first established in 2000, and there were five centers funded for 2021–26 that are conducting research and implementing various strategies to inform local solutions to reduce community rates of youth violence, including evaluating a hospital-initiated, community-integrated, practice-based approach to reducing gun violence among older Black youth; examining changes in community conditions, risk and protective factors, firearm-related hospital admissions, and homicides of youth; and creating toolkits for community and youth-engaged firearm violence prevention (CDC, 2019).

This section focuses on evidence-based practices and programs that were shown to reduce the occurrence of gun violence, including homicides, assaults, and other measures of violent crime. Overall, there is evidence supporting that interventions can reduce violent crime and offending in youth in particular, and gun violence in general; however, there is less evidence supporting reductions specifically in youth gun violence. Following below are examples of interventions from CrimeSolutions and the Model Programs Guide.

Interventions Specifically Focused on Reducing Gun Violence

A meta-analysis by Makarios and Pratt (2012) examined different types of programs under the umbrella of reducing gun violence, including law enforcement campaigns to reduce gun violence, gun laws, and gun buy-back programs. Overall, they found that interventions aimed at reducing gun violence had small but statistically significant effects on measures of gun crime (though, notably, there was no distinction between rates of youth gun crimes and overall gun crimes).

Based on the results from the meta-analysis, the most promising program strategies were

  1. Community interventions, such as Operation Ceasefire
  2. Hot spots policing strategies
  3. Weapon ban laws
  4. Stricter probation requirements for juveniles committing crimes with guns, though the authors noted there were limited data on this strategy

The meta-analysis found that enhanced prison terms, waiting periods, and background checks had a small but statistically significant effect on reducing gun violence. No statistically significant relationships were found between reduced gun crimes and prosecutorial strategies such as harsher sentencing, safe storage laws, and gun buy-back programs (that is, these programs were found to have no effect on reducing gun violence) [Makarios and Pratt, 2012].

Focused Deterrence Interventions

Focused deterrence strategies are one type of community-driven intervention that combine enforcement and resources-driven responses (Matei et al., 2022) to work at reducing violent crime (including gun violence). Focused Deterrence Strategies is a person-based practice consisting of several steps, beginning with selecting a particular crime problem such as youth homicide, convening an interagency working group (for example, law enforcement, social services), and developing a response to targeted persons committing crimes or groups of such individuals that uses a variety of sanctions (“pulling levers”) to stop continued violent behavior (Braga and Weisburd, 2012). Braga and Weisburd’s 2012 meta-analysis revealed that focused deterrence strategies have shown a significant, moderate effect on overall crime reduction.

One example of a focused deterrence intervention was implemented in Philadelphia. The approach consisted of 1) law enforcement’s directed deterrence message (at “call in” meetings) and follow-through to targeted individuals (“pulling levers”), 2) offers of social services and support, and 3) use of community moral voices to develop and maintain informal social control. Roman and colleagues (2019) found that the strategy resulted in statistically significant reductions in criminal shootings and gang-level shooting violence in treatment areas, compared with the matched comparison areas that did not implement the strategy, at 2 years post implementation. However, individuals under 18 years old were not invited to call-in meetings.

Another example of a focused deterrence-based intervention is Project Safe Neighborhood (PSN). This initiative involves proactive policing, enhanced enforcement, and emphasizes collaboration among numerous stakeholders, such as police, prosecutors, parole officers, community leaders, and academics. The ultimate goal of this approach can vary from place to place, but usually is directed at gang- and gun-related crimes. An evaluation of PSN in Tampa, FL, by Fox, Allen, and Toth (2021) found that it was related to a statistically significant reduction in violent crime in the treatment group relative to the control group. However, the evaluation found no statistically significant impact on gun crimes. Comparatively, Papachristos, Meares, and Fagan (2007) found that the PSN implemented in  Chicago, IL, was related to a statistically significant reduction in both gun homicides and in aggravated assaults and batteries in the treatment area, compared with comparison areas. However, there was no statistically significant impact on gang homicides.

One of the more widely known focused deterrence programs is Operation Ceasefire, which was developed in Boston, MA. It is a problem-solving police strategy that aims to reduce gang violence, illegal gun possession, and gun violence and has been replicated and modified by other communities. Braga and colleagues (Braga et al., 2001; Braga and Pierce, 2005) found statistically significant decreases in youth homicides and gun assaults and recovered new handguns in Operation Ceasefire.

Since its development, Ceasefire has been replicated in cities across the country. For example, Ceasefire in Oakland, Calif. uses focused-deterrence group violence reduction strategies to reduce or control gun violence. Led by the Oakland Police Department, Oakland Ceasefire includes partnerships with the Mayor’s Office, social service agencies led by the Human Services Department, and community-based leaders and organizations. Braga and colleagues (2019) found that the Oakland Ceasefire group violence-reduction strategies intervention was associated with a statistically significant decline in yearly total shootings in the matched intervention block groups, compared with the matched comparison block groups (note no distinction was made about youth gun crime). Ceasefire also has been implemented in  Detroit, Michigan, where the city uses a data-driven approach to address violent crime by focusing police and community resources on high-risk individuals involved in gun violence and those in their networks. When the targeted individuals are identified, police and community leaders communicate a deterrent message at call-ins and one-on-one meetings as needed and offer an array of services. In an evaluation of the intervention, Circo and colleagues (2020) categorized shooting victims into two age groups: ages 15 to 24 and 25 to 34. However, the study authors found no statistically significant impact on shooting victimizations among individuals ages 15 to 24 and among individuals ages 24 to 34. Though the Detroit Ceasefire call-in meetings resulted in a statistically significant lower likelihood of arrests (for an offense) and arrests for violent offenses for individuals who attended, there were no statistically significant effects on arrests for weapons offenses (though these findings were not broken out by age groups).

Indianapolis Violence Reduction Partnership, a policing program also based on the Ceasefire model, targeted high-risk persons who had repeatedly committed crimes (adults and juveniles) to reduce gun violence in Indianapolis, IN. The initiative’s first pulling-levers notification was held at a male juvenile detention facility and emphasized notifying young, high-risk juveniles of the high likelihood of victimization or incarceration if they were involved in group or gang violence. Further, the initial community outreach component involved going to local middle and high schools to explain the cost of gun violence and to promote legitimate, upcoming summer activities and resources (Corsaro and McGarrell, 2010). The initiative has been found to be related to reduced gun- and non–gun-related homicides across all ages (McGarrell et al., 2006; Corsaro and McGarrell, 2010).

Another focused deterrence intervention that aims to reduce gun violence is Operation Peacekeeper, based in Stockton, CA, which was designed to reduce gang involvement and violence among youths ages 10 to 18 in an urban area. The program’s pulling-levers approach consisted of an interagency workgroup to link efforts across all the local, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies; assigning patrol officers to a Gang Street Enforcement Team unit to communicate a credible, clear message about the consequences of gang violence to youths involved in or at risk of becoming involved in gangs; the use of Youth Outreach Workers serving as mentors for youths in neighborhood settings; and other service provisions (Braga, 2008). Evaluation results have found a statistically significant 42 percent decrease in the monthly number of gun homicides in Stockton, compared with pre-intervention trends (however, as with previous studies described above, there was no distinction made about the impact of the program specifically on youth gun crime).

Interventions Using the Public Health Approach

One example of a public health intervention that appears in the criminal justice research literature is a program known as Cure Violence (Matei et al., 2022). This Chicago–based program employs a public health approach, using trained street violence interrupters and outreach workers, public education campaigns, community mobilization, faith leader (clergy) involvement, and police and prosecutor participation to reduce shootings and killings in the target age group of 16 to 25. The program focuses on changing the behavior and risky activities of a small number of selected members of the community who have a high chance of either being the victim of or perpetrating a shooting (Skogan et al., 2008; Butts et al., 2015). Evaluation results found Cure Violence was associated with statistically significant decreases in shootings, killings, and retaliatory homicides in some (but not all) neighborhoods that implemented the program (Skogan et al., 2008).

Another example is the Safe and Successful Youth Initiative (SSYI) [Massachusetts], a comprehensive public health approach to serious violence committed by youths that offers a host of services—including case management, outreach, and direct services (for example, subsidized employment, behavioral health)—to young men ages 17 to 24 who are believed to be at “proven risk” for becoming involved in firearm violence. This state-funded, community-based secondary violence prevention program launched in 2011 is now in 13 Massachusetts cities. Petrosino and colleagues (2014) found a statistically significant reduction in monthly city-level violent crime victimization rates for 14- to 24-year-old young men in SSYI treatment cities, compared with the young men in the cities in both comparison groups and over both interruption points. Since the program targets young men at serious risk for becoming involved in firearms violence, homicide and aggravated assault were analyzed separately—as these offenses are the most relevant. Petrosino and colleagues (2014) also found statistically significant reductions in city-level homicide and aggravated assault victimization rates for 14- to 24-year-old young men in SSYI treatment cities, compared with cities in both comparison groups, and over both interruption points.

Hot Spots Policing Interventions

Research has shown that crime tends to be concentrated at microgeographic units such as street segments or clusters of street segments (Weisburd, 2015). In an examination of youth crime in Seattle, WA, Weisburd, Morris, and Groff (2009) found that officially recorded youth crime was strongly concentrated at hot spots. The authors suggested that this implied that efforts to reduce youth crime, including gun crime and violence, could benefit from focused place-based policing efforts (Weisburd, Morris, and Groff, 2009; Gill et al., 2018). Hot Spots Policing is a place-based practice in which law enforcement agencies expend limited resources in small geographic areas—usually in urban settings, where crime is concentrated and highly predictable (Braga, Papachristos, and Hureau, 2012). Overall, hot spots policing has had mixed evidence. It has been shown to have a statistically significant but small effect on reducing overall crime rates, and on reducing rates of violent, property, public order, and drug offense (Braga et al. 2019); however, the impact on youth gun violence has not been assessed.

Using the youth hot spots identified by Weisburd, Morris, and Groff (2009), Gill and colleagues (2018) implemented a “nonenforcement” approach in these areas, where officers were encouraged to develop interventions focused on increasing supervision and structure for youth; changing environmental features, policies, and rules to facilitate compliance; and/or promoting informal collective efficacy among community stakeholders. The authors did not examine youth gun use or gun crime outcomes and found mixed results on overall youth crime incidents in the youth crime hot spots as a result of the nonenforcement intervention.

One example of a hot spot policing intervention is the Directed Patrol and Self-Initiated Enforcement in Hot Spots (St. Louis, Missouri) experiment, which examined the impact of hot- spots policing tactics (directed patrol and self-initiated enforcement) on firearm violence. Self-initiated activity was defined as arrest, pedestrian checks, building checks, occupied vehicle checks, unoccupied vehicle checks, foot patrol, and problem solving. Directed patrol involved officers patrolling slowly through the hot spot areas and avoiding self-initiated contact. Rosenfeld and colleagues (2014) found that hot spots treatment areas that received self-initiated enforcement experienced a statistically significant reduction in firearm assault rates, compared with hot spots comparison sites. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the treatment areas that received directed patrol and the comparison sites in firearm assault rates. As with previous studies described above, there was no distinction made about the impact of these programs specifically on youth gun crime.

Gang Reduction Programming

Although these programs are designed to address youth gang violence, as noted earlier in the “Risk Factors for Youth Gun Violence” section, research has shown that delinquent peer associations (such as associating with gang members) are related to perpetrating firearm assault (Goldstick et al., 2019) and that gang membership is one predictor of gun violence (Pardini et al., 2021). Further, evaluations of gang reduction programs have examined youth gun use or violence outcomes. The Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Project (Comprehensive Gang Model) was a comprehensive, community-wide program designed to reduce serious violence in Chicago’s gang-ridden Little Village neighborhood. The project involved a collaboration of personnel from numerous agencies, including the Chicago Police Department and probation, and four full-time community youth workers who were mainly former gang members from the area. The program focused on implementing the five components of the Comprehensive Gang Model, particularly social intervention, provision of social opportunities, and suppression. Youth subjects were provided with economic and social opportunities for employment and referrals to social interventions, and a suppression component (socialized suppression) was implemented through information gathering, gang member monitoring, and criminal activity arrests. An evaluation by Spergel and colleagues (2003) found that treatment group youths who participated in the Little Village Gang Violence Reduction Project had a greater reduction in serious violent crime arrests (homicide, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, and armed robbery), compared with control group youths, at the program exit. This difference was statistically significant.

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP)–funded Gang Reduction Program was a targeted multiyear (2003–08) initiative to reduce crime and violence associated with youth street gangs in a select group of cities throughout the United States. The initiative integrated the Comprehensive Gang Model (also known as the Spergel Model of gang interventions), parts of Project Safe Neighborhoods, and other OJJDP–funded programs to form a comprehensive approach to gang reduction. The Gang Reduction Program (Los Angeles, California) provided alternative programs for at-risk youths and families; provided social, educational, and behavioral interventions; and implemented programs to reduce gang crime in the target area. Each of the services provided through the initiative fell under prevention, intervention/reentry, or suppression categories. Cahill and colleagues (2008) analyzed the preliminary impact of the program on gang-related crime in Los Angeles and found that calls for shots fired in the Gang Reduction Program target area decreased, compared with the comparison area. The target area reported a reduction of 8.23 calls per month, compared with a reduction of 1.78 per month in the comparison area. This difference was statistically significant.

Overall, there are a variety of interrelated programs and practices that appear to reduce violence and gun violence. There are some limitations to the research, such as the issue of generalizability of the findings to other cities or communities (Matei et al., 2022; Schaefer, Hughes, and Stelzig, 2019) or the inability to rule out the influence of competing and alternative programming or other factors on the crime rate outside of the program being evaluated (Roman et al., 2019; Circo et al., 2020). In addition, only a limited number of programs and practices have examined the specific impact on youth gun violence.

The data available on the incidents of gun violence in the United States show how greatly youths are affected. Available data can describe how many youths are involved in gun violence every year (either perpetrating, witnessing, or being a victim of gun violence). However, the numbers cannot explain why youth gun violence is so prevalent. One issue is the lack of research focused exclusively on the causes, correlates, and consequences specifically of youth gun violence. For instance, although research has examined the risk and protective factors related to youth violence in general, gun violence is usually not specifically focused on, but rather grouped together with other forms of violence, such as school or community violence. Some information is known about the risk factors related to youth gun violence perpetration (for example, the exposure to violence and the access to and availability of firearms are strong predictors of the occurrence of violence). Nevertheless, a great deal about the complexity of youth gun violence still is not known. Specific and well-defined research examining the prevalence and predictors of youth gun violence would help inform future policies and programs designed to reduce gun violence perpetration involving youth.

Some laws and policies that have been enacted at the federal and state levels are intended to reduce youths’ access to guns. But while these laws restrict gun access to those under certain age thresholds (18 in some cases, 21 in others), with few exceptions the laws do not otherwise directly target youth behavior. As more information is gathered and analyzed, more informed policies can be developed to effectively address the issue of youth gun violence. 

Moreover, many specific programs, using different approaches such as public health approaches and hot-spots policing, have been developed to target various forms of community-based violence, including youth gun violence. Several of these programs have been shown to reduce measures of violence; however, few programs have been evaluated to determine the particular impact of specifically youth-centered gun violence. One program that evaluated youth outcomes was Operation Ceasefire in Boston, which was found to statistically significantly decrease youth homicides and gun assaults. Even so, further research is needed in this area. 

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Prepared by Development Services Group, Inc., under Contract Number: 47QRAA20D002V.


Last Update: March 2024