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"Gotta Make Your Heaven": Guns, Safety, and the Edge of Adulthood in New York City

NCJ Number
Rachel Swaner; Elise White; Andrew Martinez; Anjelica Camacho; Basaime Spate; Javonte Alexander; Lysondra Webb; Kevin Evans
Date Published
July 2020
67 pages

Since gun violence has been increasing in disadvantaged neighborhoods in New York City, particularly among youth, this study interviewed 330 youths (16-24 years old) recruited from three New York City neighborhoods with historically high rates of gun violence compared to the whole city.


Three questions were addressed in the interviews: 1) What are the reasons young people carry guns? 2) How do young people talk about having and using guns? 3) What are the characteristics of young people’s social networks, and what roles do guns play in these networks? Youth were recruited through respondent-driven sampling, with initial interviews conducted with youth through outreach at Cure Violence programs (gun violence prevention programs with credible messengers on staff). Youth initially interviewed helped recruit other eligible youth from their social networks. Interviewers had significant personal experience in the social networks of the target population. Analysis of interview content provided views and information on participants’ neighborhoods, guns and violence, gangs, alternative-economy survival strategies, and the police. This report presents key findings from each of these areas. Most of the youth were Black or Latinx males living in public housing. The main driver for gun-carrying was personal protection in neighborhoods perceived as unsafe and without meaningful protection by police, with being shot by a police officer a common fear. The experience of violence was common among the youth interviewed. Common methods for obtaining guns were from fellow gang members, borrowing a gun from a friend or family member, and theft. First gun possession was between the ages of 14 and 17. Based on these findings, suggestions are offered for addressing youth gun violence. 9 tables, 3 figures, and 26 references