Nearly one in four young people who come to an emergency room with an assault injury owns a gun, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. And most of those guns – more than 80 percent – were not obtained legally.
The researchers studied 689 teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 24 who visited an emergency room in Flint, Mich., a city that frequently ranks as the most dangerous city in the United States, and has one of the highest rates of violent crime per capita.
"It's sad but it didn't surprise me," says Dr. Robert Sege at Boston Medical Center, who authored a commentary on the findings, published alongside the study. "We know that young people who come in with assault-related injuries are more likely to come back with a more serious injury later. And one of the things that goes into that is access to guns."
The study also examined the attitudes of young people who owned guns, and found they were more likely to encourage aggression that could lead to retaliatory violence, and to say that "revenge was a good thing." Young adults who owned guns were also more likely to use illegal drugs. A number of respondents said they carried a gun just "to scare someone."
"Earlier in my career, when I talked to young men in particular about their concerns, they were concerned about the possibility of being killed by firearms. And they couldn't talk to me about other issues if they were concerned about firearms," says Sege, who directs the division of family and child advocacy at Boston Medical Center. "So I realized pediatricians have an important role to play in gun violence prevention."
The American Academy of Pediatrics has previously come out against gun ownership by youths: in 2012, it said families with children should not keep guns at home at all, or keep any weapons locked away and apart from ammunition. The professional medical association also runs a primary care violence prevention program called "Connected Kids," which encourages health care professionals to talk to teen patients about topics such as "staying cool when things heat up" and "connecting with your community."