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April 2004

Gun Threats Against and Self-defense Gun Use by California Adolescents

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Health Policy and Management, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Mass.

Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158(4):395-400. doi:10.1001/archpedi.158.4.395

Objective  To assess hostile gun use against and self-defense gun use by adolescents.

Design, Setting, and Participants  We use random-digit-dial telephone survey data collected from approximately 5800 California adolescents, aged 12 through 17 years, between November 1, 2000, and October 31, 2001.

Main Outcome Measures  The prevalence and correlates of reported hostile gun use against and self-defense gun use by adolescents, as well as qualitative information about these 2 types of gun uses. Correlates include age, sex, ethnicity, smoking, alcoholic binge drinking, threatening others, parents knowing their adolescent's whereabouts in the afternoon after school, attending school, area urbanization and poverty level, and living in a household with a gun.

Results  Approximately 4% of the adolescents reported ever having been threatened with a gun; only 0.3% reported using a gun in self-defense. Boys, smokers, adolescents who threatened others, and adolescents whose parents knew little about their whereabouts in the afternoon after school were more likely to report being threatened with a gun. Most episodes of self-defense gun use seem to be hostile interactions between adolescents with weapons.

Conclusions  Far more California adolescents are threatened with a gun than use a gun in self-defense. Self-defense gun use is rare; many of the reported self-defense gun uses seem to be armed confrontations.