1 in 5 Colorado high school students have easy access to handguns, study reveals

AURORA, Colo. — Regardless of where an individual stands on gun control and America’s second amendment, most can agree no child should have access to firearms. Unfortunately, a new study finds one in five adolescents in Colorado can easily gain possession of a handgun. Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus add the findings are particularly unnerving considering the rise in mental health issues.

“Our findings highlight that it is relatively easy to access a handgun in Colorado for high school students. This finding, combined with the high prevalence of feeling sad or depressed and suicide attempts, is concerning for the safety of adolescents,” says lead author Ashley Brooks-Russell, PhD, MPH, assistant professor in the Colorado School of Public Health, in a university release.

Study authors analyzed data on over 46,000 students in the state during this project. Besides just handgun access ease or difficulty, researchers investigated other potential influences regarding this issue. These included geographic differences or characteristics among adolescents, individual characteristics, and any related or relevant health considerations.

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All of the data is part of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, an optional and anonymous survey researchers give to Colorado students attending participating schools. Originally, study authors say the data’s purpose was to help assess adolescent health behaviors. Now, they’re focusing specifically on questions and answers pertaining to gun access and perceived availability.

Troublingly, results reveal students are much more likely to report easy handgun access if they also report feeling sad or hopeless on most days over a two-week period (24.2%). Students who had attempted suicide (30.1%) or had a physical fight or confrontation over the past year (31.8 %) also reported having easy access to guns.

Generally, more male high school students reported easy handgun access than females. Also, a high percentage of transgender students said they can easily access a handgun. Rural students in Colorado are more likely to have access to handguns in comparison to urban residents as well.

“It’s clear from our findings that we need to raise awareness and improve efforts to reduce firearm access for youth in Colorado to prevent suicide and fatal injuries,” Brooks-Russell adds. “We hope our findings will help inform public health strategies, such as educating parents on the importance of secure home firearm storage, particularly if an adolescent is at risk for suicide.”

The study appears in the journal Pediatrics.