Study: Many young assault victims have illegal guns and they're not afraid to use them

Jul 8, 2013

A study of young assault victims in Michigan finds many are at high risk for gun possession and aggression.

The University of Michigan Injury Center conducted a survey of young people treated for assault injuries at an emergency department in Flint.

Gun violence kills more teens and young adults than anything except auto accidents, according to the report.

"We found that there were high rates of firearm possession among youth 14 to 24, with almost a quarter of the sample having firearms, either owning them or carrying them,"  says Dr. Patrick Carter, a U-M emergency physician and researcher.

Carter says 80 percent of those who said they had guns said they got them illegally, and about a quarter of them said it was an automatic or semiautomatic weapon. The study did not include guns used for recreational hunting or target practice.

Nearly 700 teens and young adults took part in online interviews after being treated for their injuries at Hurley Medical Center Emergency Department in Flint, Carter says.

The study also found young people with firearms were more likely to have been in a serious fight within the previous six months.

"Those with firearms had higher rates of attitudes that favored retaliation," Carter says. "They responded favorably to statements like 'revenge is a good thing' or 'it's okay to threaten or hurt somebody if they tried to hurt you.'"

The young assault victims were also more likely to use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs.

The findings could be used to develop interventions to help break the cycle of violence.

The study appears in the new issue of the journal Pediatrics.