SEATTLE — About one-third of boys and a tenth of girls in rural communities reported they have carried a handgun in public, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington. Researchers also found that many rural children start carrying handguns as early as the sixth grade.
“This is one of the first longitudinal studies of rural adolescent handgun carrying across multiple states in the U.S. It provides evidence that youth handgun carrying in these settings is not uncommon,” said lead author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar in a media release. Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar is the co-director of the Firearm Injury and Policy Research Program at Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center and an associate professor of epidemiology.
Researchers studied rural communities in many different parts of the United States. They found that the practice of carrying handguns at a young age was associated with pro-handgun and gun rights attitudes, along with having friends who also carry handguns.
The researchers remarked that children as young as 12 carrying handguns shows that injury-related prevention and firearm violence educational programs need to be introduced earlier in a child’s life.
“Youth handgun carrying and firearm violence are often presented as an exclusively inner-city problem,” said Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar. “However, that focus should not come at the cost of ignoring non-urban settings. Indeed, youth in some rural areas experience similar or even higher rates of handgun carrying and certain forms of interpersonal violence –– for example, being attacked or threatened with a weapon –– than their counterparts in urban areas.”
The study showed that 11.5% of males and 2.8% of females in rural areas had carried a handgun in the past year. From sixth grade until age 19, out of high school, 33.7% of boys and 9.6% of girls said they have carried a handgun at least once. Among those who admit to taking a firearm with them in public, 34% of the boys and 29.3% of the girls said they had carried a handgun for the first time in the sixth grade. That said, a majority of all children who have carried before had only done so once in the last seven years, the study found.
The survey more than six in ten (63%) male 10th graders who carried also had a friend who did so, too. Interestingly, among boys who had not carried a handgun, only 6% had a friend who did. This pattern was the same for girls.
A much higher percentage of children who handled firearms endorsed pro-handgun politics than kids who didn’t. For example, kids who carried guns in public were far more likely to view taking a handgun to work or school as “not very wrong” than kids who didn’t.
Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar’s study was based on a survey of 2,002 kids in 12 rural communities in seven states. Participants took annual surveys between 2005 and 2012 starting when they entered sixth grade as a part of UW’s Community Youth Development Study.
Previous research has shown that firearm injury is the second-leading cause of death among American youth, trailing only vehicle collisions. Carrying firearms has also been linked to higher instances of adolescent bullying, fighting, and assault. It is technically illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to possess or carry a handgun in the United States.
The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.