Youths most at risk for violence, mental health issues have increased access to guns
PAS Meeting Updates
SAN FRANCISCO – New research being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies
Meeting found adolescents who reported greatest access to guns -- either in their
own home or a friend’s – also were among those with higher risk for violent behavior.
Researchers discovered additional factors linked with increased firearms access that
included past suicide attempts and self-reported mental health disorder diagnoses.
Authors of the abstract, “Cause for Concern: The Presence of Mental Health Issues
or Violence Involvement is Associated with an Increase in Youth Access to Firearms,”
will present their findings on Sunday, May 7, at the Moscone Convention Center in
Access to firearms poses serious health risks for teens, the abstract authors said,
with guns causing 29% of all adolescent deaths in the United States. The study, funded
by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involved 1,100 youth between
ages 10 and 17 and 647 parents living in two Colorado communities at high risk for
violence. The researchers conducted confidential, face-to-face interviews in participants’
homes. Among their findings:
Although few of the youth participants overall (2%) reported owning a gun or having
had one in their possession, 7% said it would be easy for them to get a gun. In addition,
9% said they would know where to get a gun and 15% said they had at least one friend
with a gun.
Participants at risk for future violent behavior based on screenings were five times
more likely to know where to get a gun compared to those not at risk (25 percent versus
5%) and four times as likely to know a friend who has a gun (40%, compared to 10%).
Those who had attempted suicide were more than twice as likely to have a friend with
a handgun (38%) than youth who had not attempted suicide (16%).
Adolescents and teens who self-reported a mental health diagnosis such as depression,
anxiety, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were twice as likely to say getting
a gun would be easy than peers without a mental health diagnosis.
Participants whose parents owned a firearm were three times as likely to say it is
easy to get a handgun if they wanted one (20%), compared to youth whose parents did
not own a firearm.
“It’s important for parents, health care providers, teachers, and anyone else working
with higher risk youth to recognize they have easier access to firearms, in a variety
of ways” said Eric Sigel M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado
School of Medicine and adolescent medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado,
who led the study.
“Efforts should be made to counsel families of higher risk youth on the safest way
to keep firearms away from their children, including either removing guns from the
home or keeping them in lock boxes or safe storage devices that kids don’t know how
to get to,” Dr. Sigel said. “This is particularly important when considering that
68 percent of attackers in school shootings obtained the guns from their own home
or that of a relative,” he said, and that 85%of youth who commit suicide used a gun
from their home.
Dr. Sigel said the findings also highlight the importance of recognizing that access
to firearms for higher risk youth often is through their friends. “Especially if a
parent is concerned that their child is depressed, they should engage the parents
of their child’s friends about whether the home their child is spending time at has
guns stored in a safe manner,” Dr. Sigel said.
The Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) Meeting brings together thousands of individuals
united by a common mission: to improve child health and well-being worldwide. This
international gathering includes pediatric researchers, leaders in academic pediatrics,
experts in child health, and practitioners. The PAS Meeting is produced through a
partnership of four organizations leading the advancement of pediatric research and
child advocacy: Academic Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American
Pediatric Society, and Society for Pediatric Research. For more information, visit
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