Accessibility of Firearms and the Use of Firearms By or Against Juveniles
In studies conducted in the United States, researchers consistently find that the most common weapons used in cases of juvenile homicides are firearms, especially handguns (Cornell, 1993; Loper and Cornell, 1996). For example, in their analysis of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Supplemental Homicide Report data from 1995, Sickmund and colleagues (1997) observed that 79% of victims of juvenile homicide offenders were slain with a firearm.
The violence studies in this report overwhelmingly confirm that firearms play a large role in juvenile violence that is serious enough to come to police attention. Approximately 85% of juvenile homicide victims in the DC juvenile violence study were murdered with a firearm, while 7% were stabbed. The Los Angeles homicide study found that firearms were used in 91% of the homicide incidents involving a juvenile (85% of all incidents involved a handgun); victims had firearms in only 13% of incidents. The Milwaukee homicide study found that 40 out of 48 juvenile homicide offenders (83%) used a gun to murder their victims.
The Los Angeles survey found that 10% of interviewed youth from high-risk neighborhoods responded that they had, at some point, owned or possessed a gun and that 30% had been close friends with someone who owned a gun. Of those youth reporting gun ownership, 70% indicated that they had obtained the gun from a friend. In terms of accessibility, 25% of the youth interviewed in the Los Angeles survey reported that they knew where to get a gun in their neighborhood and that they knew, by name, an average of four places where they could go to get a gun. Seven percent reported that they could acquire a gun in less than 1 hour. The most frequent reasons for gun ownership in the Los Angeles survey were protection or self-defense, hunting or target shooting, "for fun" or "just to have it," and a feeling of importance.
Prior research on reasons for owning guns suggests that, for both adults and adolescents, reasons for gun ownership are significantly related to involvement in antisocial and/or criminal behaviors (Lizotte and Bordua, 1980; Lizotte et al., 1994). Lizotte and Bordua (1980) identified two groups of adult firearm owners: low-risk and high-risk owners. The low-risk group owned their guns legally for protection and sport and posed no serious criminal threat, whereas the high-risk owners used their guns for criminal activity and posed a substantial criminal threat. Using data from the Rochester Youth Development Study, Lizotte et al. (1994) found a similar pattern of low-risk and high-risk ownership among urban adolescents. Low-risk adolescent gun owners were more likely than high-risk owners to own long guns, less likely to engage in criminal behavior, and less likely to carry guns regularly. High-risk adolescent gun owners were more likely than low-risk owners to own guns for protection, associate with peers who owned guns for protection, own handguns and sawed-off long guns, use guns in an assortment of dangerous and illegal activities, and carry guns regularly.
The SC gun study examined patterns and correlates of gun ownership among rural students. The researchers found that 14% of the students reported owning a rifle or shotgun and 9% reported owning a pistol or handgun. This rate is commensurate with rates observed in metropolitan samples of somewhat older children. Gun ownership and reasons for gun ownership were linked with rates of antisocial behavior and bullying. High-risk gun owners (those who owned guns to gain respect or to frighten others) reported significantly higher rates of antisocial behavior and bullying than did low-risk gun owners (those who owned guns to feel safe or for sporting purposes). Low-risk gun owners reported slightly higher rates of antisocial behavior and bullying than did students who did not own guns. The most powerful correlates of high-risk gun ownership in youth were high-risk gun ownership by family members or by peers.
Firearms were involved in no less than 80% of the incidents in each of the violence studies reporting on this topic. The Los Angeles survey of adolescent males living in high-risk neighborhoods found that 40% had, at some point, either possessed a gun (10%) or had a close friend who owned a gun (30%), indicating that guns are fairly accessible to these youth. Accessibility in rural areas appears to be somewhat comparable, with 23% of the students in the SC gun study reporting that they owned some type of gun. However, it appears that not all gun owners are equally dangerous. Two of the studies identified high-risk and low-risk gun owners. Although their measures differed, both studies found an association between high-risk gun ownership and antisocial behavior.