Young guns: Does age of onset of gun carrying impact violent behavior and gang membership (before/during/after first time gun carrying)?

Richard Spano, John Bolland, Lori Ann Post


Objective:  To specify the impact of age of onset of gun carrying on violent behavior and gang membership before, during, and after at-risk youth carry a gun for the first time.


Methods: A prospective longitudinal cohort study was conducted in Mobile, Alabama.  The current study focuses on the youth (age 9 to 18) who were first time gun carriers between 1998 and 2002.


Results: The findings indicate that 28% of first time gun carriers were “early onset” gun carriers (age 9 to 11).  There was little evidence that “early onset” gun carriers were more likely to engage in violent behavior or join a gang before, during, or after carrying a gun for the first time.  First time gun carrying (regardless of age of onset) dramatically increased the prevalence of violent behavior and gang membership (contemporaneous effect). 


Discussion: Accurately identifying age of onset for youth gun carrying is critical to target prevention and intervention efforts before youth gun carrying becomes entrenched.  The current study also highlights the utility of incorporating of age of onset of gun carrying for at-risk youth into public health initiatives focused on the primary prevention of youth gun violence.


youth gun carrying; gang membership; violent behavior; high poverty

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