Stricter State Gun Laws Tied To Fewer U.S. Teens With Firearms

Children are less likely to carry firearms in U.S. states with more restrictive gun control laws, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data on teen gun possession from a survey of U.S. high school students in 38 states and then examined how aggressively each of the states regulated firearm use with policies such as background checks before sales, minimum ages for purchase, bans on military-style assault weapons and limitations on use in public places.

In states with stricter gun laws, 5.7 percent of students surveyed said they had carried a gun in the past month, compared with 7.3 percent of their peers in states with more permissive gun laws.

Adolescents were more likely to carry guns if adults in their home owned firearms, the study also found.

"The governments and adults in other developed countries have made it difficult for youth to access handguns, however, our study showed that about a quarter of U.S. adolescents reported easy access to a gun in their home," study co-author Ziming Xuan, a public health researcher at Boston University, said by email.

Approximately 15,000 teenagers aged 12 to 19 die in the U.S. each year and the top three causes are unintentional injuries, homicides and suicides, Xuan and co-author David Hemenway of Harvard University report in JAMA Pediatrics. Most of the homicides and almost half of the suicides involve guns.

The researchers reviewed almost 230,000 survey responses from high school students questioned in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

They also reviewed a ranking of state gun laws by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. that produces annual scorecards on firearms policies. Scores range from 0 to 100, with higher marks for more restrictive gun control laws.

Overall, each 10-point increase on the state gun control score cards was associated with 9 percent lower odds of youth gun carrying, the study found.

The reductions in gun carrying were similar for boys and girls. But when researchers sorted the data by age and race, they found the effects of firearm policies were only large enough to be meaningful among students in 11th and 12th grade and among white teens. Among black and Hispanic youth, and younger high school students, the differences were too small to rule out the possibility that they were due to chance.

In addition, researchers examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on adult gun ownership in each state. Once researchers took adult gun ownership into account, the link between state laws and teens carrying firearms went away. In other words, adult gun ownership helps explain the link between state laws and the odds that teens carry guns.

Limitations of the study include the lack of data on communities where the students lived, such as cultural attitudes toward guns or socioeconomic status, which might impact whether teens carry firearms, the authors acknowledge. It's also possible that a different ranking of state gun control laws might offer a different snapshot of the policies than the scorecards used in the study.

While state legislation can play a key role in determining how guns are purchased and by whom, these policies often stop short of mandating other practices such as trigger locks or features that prevent use by unauthorized users that could make firearms safer, said Dr. Eric Fleegler, an emergency medicine specialist at Boston Children's Hospital.

"Consumer safety laws, which regulate everything from cars to teddy bears, are essentially non-existent when it comes to firearms," Fleegler, who wasn't involved in the study, said by email. "If parents own a gun, the safest approach is to store them outside of the home such as in a bank vault. If they are stored at home it is essential to store them safety locked, separated from locked ammunition."

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1V5FYDe JAMA Pediatrics, online September 21, 2015.

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