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Kids, Guns, and Killing Fields

NCJ Number
Society Volume: 30 Issue: 1 Dated: (November-December 1992) Pages: 84-89
J D Wright; J F Sheley; M D Smith
Date Published
6 pages
Survey data on youth firearm use and behavior were obtained from a sample of 835 criminally active youth serving time in maximum security juvenile correctional facilities in four States (California, Louisiana, Illinois, and New Jersey) and a sample of 1,653 students in 10 inner city public high schools near the correctional facilities.
The sample was predominantly nonwhite and poorly educated. Of the incarcerated juveniles, 86 percent owned at least one firearm sometime during their lives; 83 percent owned a gun at the time they were incarcerated. Of those who ever owned a gun, two-thirds acquired their first firearm by the age of 14. Most had owned three or more gun types, and nearly two-thirds owned at least three firearms just before being jailed. Among incarcerated youth, the revolver was the most commonly owned weapon. Next in popularity was the automatic or semiautomatic pistol, typically chambered for 9 mm or .45 caliber rounds. For more "serious" work, the shotgun was the weapon of choice. Similar patterns of gun ownership were found for male high school students, although on a considerably diminished scale. Nearly one-third of male students had owned at least one gun in their lives; 22 percent possessed a gun at the time of the survey. Carrying a gun was relatively common among all respondents. Family members and friends were also likely to own and carry firearms. Regardless of weapon type, both inmates and students tended to own large caliber guns. The number and variety of guns owned by juveniles suggested that guns were abundant and readily accessible. Guns were easily stolen and were apparently stolen in large numbers by both juvenile and adult criminals. Both inmates and students primarily obtained guns through informal purchases, trades with family members and friends or acquaintances, and street sources. Guns obtained from informal and street sources were considerably less expensive. Both inmates and students cited self-protection from enemies as the primary reason for carrying a gun. The need to make inner city neighborhoods more safe is discussed.