Campus & Community

Teens more likely to use guns to threaten than defend

2 min read

California adolescents are much more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use a gun in self-defense, according to an article in the April issue of

Researchers David Hemenway (pictured) and Matthew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 5,800 California adolescents regarding their relationship with guns. (Staff file photo Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to information in the article, the United States has more guns, particularly handguns, per capita than any other high-income country, and has higher rates of homicide for adults and children. However, shootings that result in death represent only a small percentage of incidents related to gun violence, the article states.

David Hemenway and Matthew Miller of the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 5,800 California adolescents aged 12 through 17 between Nov. 1, 2000, and Oct. 31, 2001, regarding their relationship with guns. The researchers also collected demographic data.

Of the adolescents surveyed, 43 percent were non-Hispanic whites, 39 percent were Hispanics, 8 percent were non-Hispanic Asians, 5 percent were non-Hispanic blacks, and 4 percent identified themselves as belonging to another race/ethnicity. Ninety-eight percent of the adolescents were in school, and 20 percent reported living in a home with a gun.

“Approximately 4 percent of the adolescents reported ever having been threatened with a gun; only 0.3 percent reported using a gun in self-defense,” write the researchers.

“Boys, smokers, adolescents who threatened others, and adolescents whose parents knew little about their whereabouts in the afternoon after school were more likely to report being threatened with a gun. Most episodes of self-defense gun use seem to be hostile interactions between adolescents with weapons,” Hemenway and Miller continued.

They also found that threats against adolescents with guns took place mostly within the contexts of arguments, robberies, or threats by strangers for no apparent reason.

The authors conclude, “Our results suggest that gun threats against adolescents in California are far more common that gun uses by them in self-defense. It appears that gun threats against adolescents at least for those instances when there was sufficient description to determine the age of the aggressor and what happened are mainly by other adolescents and that the typical self-defense gun use involves teenagers in armed confrontations.”

This research was funded by the Joyce Foundation, Chicago, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Los Altos, Calif.