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July 2004

Youths' Involvement With Guns: Motivation vs Availability

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(7):705. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.7.705

Gun policy is endlessly contentious, but there is at least one area of general agreement: unsupervised children and adolescents should not go armed in public. In fact, federal law stipulates a minimum age of 18 years for handgun possession and 21 years for purchasing a handgun from a dealer. But in practice, youths, especially older adolescent boys, are extensively involved with guns in the United States. For example, the National Survey of Adolescent Males (NSAM) found that 11% of boys aged 15 to 19 years reported carrying a gun at least once in the preceding 30 days in 1995.1 The decision by youths to go armed is usually motivated by a felt need for self-defense. That fear is grounded in reality—for example, 20% of the boys in NSAM said they had had a gun or knife pulled on them in the previous year—but the aggregate effect of widespread gun carrying is to increase the volume of deadly violence. The article by Molnar et al2 in this issue of the ARCHIVES adds to the growing literature on the causes of youth gun involvement.

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