New research finds that, for teens, risk and protective factors for carrying and using weapons vary by race and gender. But overall, helping teens reduce emotional distress, limiting exposure to violence, and minimizing alcohol and drug use may decrease the risk of weapon involvement for all adolescents.
The study is published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Dr. Rashmi Shetgiri from Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute and researchers from University of Texas at Dallas, Southwestern Medical Center, and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center used longitudinal data from a national survey conducted during the mid-1990s, when rates of violent crime had been in decline.
A subset of students in grades seven to 12 were surveyed about weapon involvement in two waves, approximately one year apart. According to Shetgiri, “We used the data to identify risk and protective factors for involvement with weapons in the past year, which we defined as carrying a weapon, pulling a gun or knife on someone, or shooting or stabbing someone.”
The researchers found that 13 percent of African American, 10 percent of Latino, and seven percent of white students were involved with weapons. Of those who carried weapons, 17 percent also had shot or stabbed someone in the previous 12 months.
Compared with those who reported no weapon involvement, adolescents who initially reported involvement with weapons were four to six times more likely to be involved with weapons a year later. It also was found that boys were two to four times more likely than girls to be involved with weapons.
Further, emotional distress and substance use were found to be risk factors for all groups. Exposure to violence and peer delinquency were risk factors for whites and African-Americans. Guns in the home were associated with weapon involvement for African-Americans only.
High educational aspirations were protective for African-Americans and Latinos, but higher family connectedness was protective for Latinos only.
Researchers believe proactive initiatives may reduce the risk of weapon use by teens. They explain that although there are differences among racial/ethnic groups in specific risk and protective factors for weapon carrying and use, targeting specific risk profiles can be effective.
Said Shetgiri, “It is important to also promote educational aspirations, minimize the influence of delinquent peer groups, and focus on family connectedness to appropriately tailor programs for different racial/ethnic groups.”