About a quarter of high-risk youth who go to the hospital for an assault-related injury own a gun, according to a new study. But, even if they don't own a firearm, the majority of these youths say they are okay with retaliatory violence.
Gun violence is the leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults between 14 and 24.
Overall, 467,321 were victims of a crime committed with a gun in 2011, according to the National Institute of Justice. Firearms were used in 68 percent of murders, 41 percent of robberies and 21 percent of aggregated assaults that year.
Researchers talked to 689 high-risk youths between 14 and 24 who had visited Hurley Medical Center's emergency department in Flint, Mich. for an assault-related injury. The vast majority were in the emergency room because of injuries caused by their peers (67 percent), while a fraction (15 percent) admitted their injuries were caused by their partner. About 14 percent were under the age of 18, and 32 percent had a child of their own. Most of the people surveyed were not involved in a gang.
Twenty-three percent said they owned a firearm, with the majority (83 percent of gun owners) admitting they purchased the gun illegally. Out of all the owners, 22 percent had a automatic or semiautomatic weapon.
Males were more likely to have a gun than females. About 37 percent said they owned a gun for protection, 10 percent said they were holding it for someone and 9 percent said they had one because their friends had one. Forty-two percent said they carried the firearm outside the home.
People who owned firearms were more likely to use illegal drugs, have been involved in a serious fight and to support aggressive behavior that increased their risk for retaliatory violence.
The majority of surveyed youths believed that "revenge was a good thing" and it was "OK to hurt people if they hurt you first."
"The high rates of substance use, fighting and attitudes favoring retaliation, combined with the fact that so many of these youth had firearms, increases their risk for future firearm violence, as well as injury or death. But, our findings also provide an opportunity for public health interventions that could decrease their future firearm violence risk," Dr. Patrick Carter, a clinical lecturer and injury research fellow in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, said to Psych Central.
The research was published in Pediatrics on July 8.
Dr. Robert Sege, the director of the division of family and child advocacy in the department of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center, wrote in an accompanying editorial that talking about taking away guns from patients who have a history of assault-related injuries may be meaningful, but it's unlikely to change behavior. He called for more research on the topic and government action.
"The continued high incidence of firearms deaths in the U.S. is a national disgrace," he wrote. "Despite declining rates over the past decade, firearm injuries remain the second leading cause of death for young Americans, trailing only motor vehicle crashes."