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Study Finds Witnessing Crime Increases Chances of Carrying a Gun

Reducing exposure to violence may be one way to stop cycles of violence among teenagers, says a new study led by researchers at the University of Michigan. Teenagers who witness violence in various forms are more likely than those who don't to carry a firearm, found researchers at Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention in collaboration with the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, the Detroit Free Press reports. Exposure to violence doesn't necessarily need to involve a gun, the study found. In the U.S., firearms are the leading cause of death among children and teens. More than 4,700 people under 20 died as a result of guns in 2021. Understanding more about the relationship between young people and guns is a critical issue in places where violence among juveniles remains high. For example, the number of juveniles shot and killed in Detroit in 2022 had already tripled the number slain in 2019. The increase, experts said, was likely fueled in part by a proliferation of guns, an increased willingness to use them, and adults’ failure to secure them.

Michigan researchers in their new study, in the latest issue of Preventive Medicine, looked at data from a national survey that polled more than 2,100 U.S. teens and found that reducing exposure to violence may be one possible mechanism for breaking cycles of violence among teens. Those who witnessed firearm-related violence, such as seeing someone use a gun to threaten another person, were more than three times more likely to carry a firearm than those who had not witnessed any gun violence. Those who witnessed violence that didn't involve a gun, such as seeing someone physically harm another person, were more than four times more likely to carry a firearm than those who had not witnessed similar violence. "This study highlights the importance of identifying the unique circumstances that link these two different types of violence exposures to youth firearm carriage. In doing so, we can better understand why young people feel the need to carry a firearm, provide intervention support and strategies, and reduce youth firearm injury," said Rebeccah Sokol of the University of Michigan social work faulty and the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.


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