Juvenile Gun Ownership in the USA: Current Knowledge and Future Directions

By Johnson, Lee Michael; Matthews, Todd L. et al. | International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, July-December 2013 | Go to article overview

Juvenile Gun Ownership in the USA: Current Knowledge and Future Directions


Johnson, Lee Michael, Matthews, Todd L., Jenks, David, Bass, Christy W., International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences


Introduction

Youth gun violence in the United States during the 1980s and early 1990s generated interest in research on juvenile gun ownership behaviors. Much of this research associated gun possession with juvenile violence. However, the body of knowledge produced by this research is quite limited. Relatively few multivariate analyses of juvenile gun ownership were conducted during this time (Brown, 2004), and few studies of juvenile gun behaviors, especially gun ownership, can be found in more recent literature.

It may seem that less attention to juvenile gun possession is warranted since juvenile gun violence decreased in the late 1990s and has remained relatively low. However, this does not suggest that it has dropped to an acceptable level. The problem of violent delinquency continues to be more severe in the US when compared to other industrialized countries. Even after juvenile homicide rates in the US fell, they were still higher than other industrialized countries (Brown, 2004). While the arrest rates for most juvenile violent crimes held fairly steady or slightly decreased during the 2000s, those for robbery-a crime frequently involving the use of a gun-increased in the second half of the decade; the rate was at 73 per 100,000 juveniles in 2002 and then 97/100,000in 2009 (OJJDP, 2012). Today, youth still have fairly easy access to guns and often carry them or other weapons, and the literature shows that there are many questions about juvenile gun behaviors yet to be answered (Brown, 2004).

Thus, it can be argued that juvenile gun violence continues to be a major threat to public safety and therefore, a major social issue deserving of significant scholarly attention. In this paper, published research and an existing data set are analyzed to assess the current state of empirical knowledge on juvenile gun ownership and identify areas in need of further inquiry.

Research on Juvenile Gun Ownership

Lizotte and Sheppard (2001) pointed out that most studies of gun ownership and use had focused on adults, though some collected retrospective data on childhood experiences. Wright and Rossi (1986) conducted the first extensive investigation into patterns and factors of gun behaviors, using a sample of adult prisoners. They found, for example, that childhood family influences were associated more with legitimate aspects of gun behavior while peer influences were associated more with illegitimate aspects. This study and others revealed that adult gun owners could be identified as those who are either at low or high risk of committing violent crime (Lizotte et al., 1994; Lizotte & Sheppard 2001). Low-risk owners tend to have been socialized into gun ownership by their families, own guns legally, and own for socially approved reasons like hunting whereas high-risk owners tend to have been socialized into ownership on the street, own guns illegally, and own for criminal purposes (Lizotte & Sheppard, 2001). Juvenile gun owners may also be identified as low or high risk (Lizotte et al., 1994). However, it is important that juvenile gun behaviors and adult gun behaviors be distinguished in the body of literature as patterns and factors may differ between the two. Using a sample of adult and juvenile arrestees, Watkins, Huebner, and Decker (2008) found that gun-involved behaviors were prevalent among juveniles and adults, but juveniles were more likely to carry and fire guns. Also, juvenile gun behaviors were associated more with gang membership while adult gun behaviors were associated more with perceived access to guns, fear of the street, and perceived risk of arrest.

Factors of juvenile gun ownership

Victimization and protection

Like adults, juveniles can be motivated to obtain weapons in response to threats of victimization. Neighborhood crime and violence at school are genuine threats that may increase desire for self-protection, acquisition of firearms, and perceived need to carry guns for protection. …

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