Close to one-quarter of teenagers and young adults treated
for assault injuries in a Michigan emergency room reported owning or carrying a
gun, according to a new study. Most of those weapons were obtained illegally, researchers
found, and 22% of young gun owners said they had an automatic or semi-automatic
"I think the surprise, if there is any here, is the
numbers really are quite high," said Dr Robert Sege of Boston Medical
Center, who wrote a commentary published with the new report in the journal
Pediatrics. "We need to have a general sense that it's not okay for
teenagers and young people to be walking around armed," he told Reuters Health.
One 2003 study found
rates of gun homicides among 15- to 24-year-olds were more than 40 times higher
in the US than in other wealthy nations. Last year, the American Academy of
Pediatrics said families with children should ideally have no guns at home, but
if they do, guns should be kept locked and separate from ammunition. But the US Congress remains
divided on issues of gun control, with the Senate rejecting a plan to expand
background checks for gun buyers in April.
For the new study, researchers led by Dr Patrick Carter from
the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor surveyed 689 young people, ages 14 to
24, about their gun ownership, drug use and attitudes about fighting. All of
the youth were being seen in the ER of a Flint, Michigan, public hospital for
assault-related injuries. Just over 23% of the young people, or 159, said they
owned or carried a gun. Well-off young men were most likely to have a gun.
Possession rates did not vary by race. More than 80% of gun
owners said they obtained their firearm from an illegal source, including
family and friends, or through a cash purchase. Gun owners were more likely
than other members of the study group to use illicit drugs and to agree that
"revenge was a good thing", the researchers found.
That puts those people at higher risk for future gun-related
violence, Carter said. According to Sege, some hospitals and community groups
have programs that reach out to kids who have been hurt and redirect their
focus away from violence."Teenagers need to have another way to deal with
those feelings," he said. But there's a need for more research on how best
to help them do that, Sege added – and so far, such studies haven't been
Carter agreed there's a lack of work looking at what types
of ER programs may help limit future violence and address safe gun
storage."In this specific community, which has high rates of violence,
there are many youths who have guns," he told Reuters Health. "I
would say to parents, talk to your kids about firearms and the dangers
associated with firearms and try to look at ways to prevent kids from getting
involved in both substance use and violence."