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Van Sparrentak M, Chang T, Miller AL, Nichols LP, Sonneville KR. Youth Opinions About Guns and Gun Control in the United States. JAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(9):884–886. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1746
Young activists and mass-shooting survivors in the United States have recently been organizing protests and demanding increased gun control measures. Although national polls have tracked adult opinions about gun control policies for decades, little is known about how youth feel about guns and/or gun control. Because the youth perspective is a powerful factor in the public debate, the goal of this study was to characterize youth opinions on guns and gun control.
Participants came from the National MyVoice Text Message Cohort1 and were recruited through targeted Facebook and Instagram advertisements to match national benchmarks based on weighted samples from the 2016 American Community Survey, including age, gender, race/ethnicity, educational level, family income, and region of the country. MyVoice is a large-scale longitudinal mixed methods study of youth. Although MyVoice is not a nationally representative sample, participants are recruited on the basis of the American Community Survey benchmarks to ensure a meaningful and diverse sample. This study was approved by the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board. Consent was obtained from participants; parental consent was waived.
Between July 2017 and January 2018, MyVoice participants (n = 1153) were asked the following questions using an open-ended text message survey: (1) What are your thoughts about having guns in your home? (2) Do you think gun control laws would affect mass shootings? Why? (3) Who, if anyone, should not be allowed to own guns? The investigative team (M.V.S., A.L.M., K.R.S., and T.C.) identified themes in text message responses. The presence of each theme was then independently coded (interrater reliability for each theme was 95%).
Among 1153 participants, 772 responded to the survey (response rate, 67%). Demographic characteristics of these 772 respondents (458 [59.3%] female; 544 [70.7%] white; mean [SD] age, 18.32 [3.14] years) are shown in Table 1. Table 2 summarizes themes and responses and gives representative quotations. Approximately one-third of youths in the sample (263 of 772 [34%]) were “against” guns in the home, and the remaining two-thirds (506 of 772 [66%]) were either “pro” or “conditionally pro” guns in the home, stating that gun ownership is acceptable under certain conditions, such as when there is proper storage for the gun or when it is kept away from children. Most respondents (468 of 757 [62%]) believed that gun control laws could decrease mass shootings (“Yes!! They would make it harder to get guns right away, or at all if u have a record of crime or instability”). However, one-third of respondents (247 of 757 [33%]) felt that gun control laws would not be enough to affect mass shootings (“Bad people will still find a way to get what they want and the good people will not be able to protect themselves”). Respondents were particularly concerned about gun access for individuals with mental illness, criminal records, and histories of violence.
The response rate exceeded 60%, which has been used as the threshold of acceptability and a measure of survey quality.2 However, possible limitations of this study include self-selection bias and systematic differences between responders and nonresponders regarding their perspectives on gun control.
Our findings revealed that the nuances of gun control in the United States are not lost on youth. Although most youths in the sample felt that individuals should have the right to own guns, the majority of youths believed that gun control laws would reduce mass shootings. Our findings are consistent with earlier studies of high school students that showed that, although many students supported access to guns,3 most also supported more restrictive gun control policies.4 Our findings also align with recent polls of adults showing that the United States is polarized on this issue, with 42% of adults having a gun in the home and 48% in favor of an assault rifle ban.5
Youths, having been the target of several mass shootings, are positioning themselves as both the present and the future of the gun control debate and are taking the lead in the public discourse. Similar to their adult counterparts, most youths in our study were not suggesting a ban on all guns or repeal of the Second Amendment; instead, they supported legislative action that they believed would make their country safer.
Corresponding Author: Kendrin R. Sonneville, ScD, RD, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Michigan School of Public Health, 1415 Washington Heights, Ste 3855 SPH 1, Ann Arbor, MI 48109 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Published Online: July 30, 2018. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.1746
Author Contributions: Dr Sonneville had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Chang, Miller, Sonneville.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Van Sparrentak, Chang, Nichols, Sonneville.
Drafting of the manuscript: Van Sparrentak, Chang, Miller, Sonneville.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Van Sparrentak, Chang, Sonneville.
Obtained funding: Chang, Nichols, Sonneville.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Van Sparrentak, Chang, Miller, Nichols.
Supervision: Chang, Miller, Sonneville.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
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