Well-Being Prevention & Cures

The number of teens who report carrying handguns has spiked, study says

“Policy needs to be informed by what teenagers are reporting they do today, not what they were doing 20 years ago or class- or race-based assumptions about which kids carry,” said Naoka Carey, a doctoral candidate at Boston College.
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Story at a glance

  • Researchers at Boston College studied adolescent handgun data and found there was a 41 percent increase in reported carriage rates among teens from 2002 to 2019.

  • White and higher income youth are now the most likely to report carrying a handgun. 

  • There was also an increase in carriage rates among adolescents in rural areas.  

An alarming number of teens in the U.S. are carrying handguns, escalating the risk of injury or death to themselves and others. 

Researchers from Boston College published a report in the journal Pediatrics which analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health. It included a sample of adolescents aged 12 to 17 and found handgun carriage rates increased by 41 percent from 2002 to 2019. 

Carriage rates fluctuated by race, with white and higher income adolescents the most likely to carry a handgun. For Black, American Indian and Alaska Native and lower-income adolescents, carriage rates decreased. 

Geographic location also influenced the results, with adolescents in rural areas reporting a 6.9 percent increase in handgun carriage rate. 

Federal estimates based on the same national survey indicate there were an additional 200,000 adolescents reporting they have carried a firearm in 2019-20 compared to 2002-03. 


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The study’s authors explained that previous research on handgun carriage focused primarily on individual level risk factors. But more recently, there’s been focused attention on the importance of socio-demographic differences in carriage patterns, like the differences in neighborhoods or historical contexts. 

“U.S. southern and midwestern demographic groups tend to embrace more positive norms around gun carriage, and firearm bearing by adolescents is linked to peer and family customs around carriage,” said the study’s authors, in a statement

Researchers noted that the study’s findings call for developing and implementing programs that address the risk of adolescent gun carriage, tailored to the specific sociocultural and place-based concerns of diverse teens.  

The study’s results come on the heels of a separate study by researchers from the University of Michigan, who found for the first time in more than a decade, guns were the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in 2020. More than 4,300 adolescents died of firearm-related injuries that year.  

“Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children in the U.S. and it is absolutely critical that we address it,” said Naoka Carey, a doctoral candidate at Boston College and a co-author of the study. 

“To do that, policy needs to be informed by what teenagers are reporting they do today, not what they were doing 20 years ago or class- or race-based assumptions about which kids carry. We hope that our study can help inform future research, and help policymakers better address the root causes of violence and childhood injury, which may look different for different communities.” 

The White House has attempted to crack down on the country’s pervasive gun violence crisis, with President Biden announcing a ban on unlicensed kits to manufacture guns at home, known as ghost guns. The new rule bans “buy build shoot” kits that people can purchase online or at a physical store without a background check. It can be assembled in as little as 30 minutes.  

“Anyone can order it in the mail, anyone,” said Biden. “Folks, a felon, a terrorist, a domestic abuser, can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes.”  

Researchers at Northeastern University attempted to answer how adolescents get their guns, conducting a study that found more than one-third of teens ages 13 to 17 said they could gain access in less than five minutes to a loaded firearm kept in their family home — while half could gain access in 60 minutes or less.  

In the same study, 30 percent of parents admitted that their children had access to guns in the home.  


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