Twenty three percent of 14- to 24-year-olds who had sustained assault injuries reported they owned a firearm within the past six months, and 83 percent of them obtained that weapon illegally. Two-thirds of the gun-owners who landed in the emergency room had been injured by their peers, and 15 percent had suffered intimate partner violence.
The survey, conducted by University of Michigan at Ann Arbor researchers, found that gun possession among injured youth was correlated with higher socioeconomic status, substance abuse, and a recent history of aggressive conflict. Those not receiving public economic assistance were 51 percent more likely to possess firearms. While the injured youth surveyed were evenly divided by gender, 71 percent of those owning guns were male. Race and gang membership were not found to be significant factors.
The researchers emphasized the importance of tackling gun violence as part of an effort to improve the public health of youth, writing that “future prevention efforts should focus on minimizing illegal ﬁrearm access among high-risk youth, nonviolent alternatives to retaliatory violence, and substance use prevention.” Gun violence and firearm suicide kill thousands of children and youth every year.
The Flint, Michigan emergency room survey is part of a longer, ongoing longitudinal study. Researchers warned that the survey may not reflect national trends, as it was performed in a single medical center — and stressed the need for future studies to better understand causal relationships, how race and ethnicity are related to gun violence among youth, and potential emergency room programs that could target vulnerable youth and prevent further violence.
However, gun violence research has long been stifled by the National Rifle Association (NRA)’s lobbying efforts. The NRA has also stifled conversation on public health concerns around gun violence: the powerful gun lobbying group swiftly moved to discredit the 60,000-member American Association of Pediatrics earlier this year when members urged Congress to pass background check measures to protect children’s health.
“The continued high incidence of firearms deaths in the U.S. is a national disgrace,” Robert Sege of the Boston Medical Center wrote in an editorial accompanying the release of the study, urging more research and federal action on gun violence.