Nearly one in four young adults and teenagers admitted to a Flint, Michigan, emergency department for non-sexual assault injuries say they currently possess a firearm of their own or have possessed one within the past six months, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.
The estimate is higher than past studies have found. One reason, according to the researchers, is that the young people studied had been involved in violent disputes; previous research looked at all comers to the emergency room.
Only 17% of those reporting they possessed a firearm say they obtained the weapon legally.
“This points to the ease with which American teenagers and young adults can get access to weapons, and in fact do," says Dr. Robert Sege, director of the Division of Family and Child Advocacy at Boston University School of Medicine.
"Also I think it points to something that I think we've known for a while, that a lot of the firearms injuries happen among a group of kids who fight a lot. And I think that this paper helps make that link.”
According to the study, 37% of those with firearms say they’re intended for protection.
“What I think is interesting that we found is that those that had it for protection had high rates of peer and partner associated violence within the past six months,” says Dr. Patrick Carter, the lead study author.
“So while they’re carrying it for protection, they’re also using it.”
Part of what makes the study unique is the topic itself: gun violence.
Despite approximately 30,000 firearm deaths due to suicides and homicides each year, according to CDC data, there has effectively been a ban on government-funded research on gun violence since congress passed the so-called “Dickey Amendment” in 1996, because it said that " none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control."
“Precisely what was or was not permitted under the clause was unclear. But no federal employee was willing to risk his or her career or the agency's funding to find out,” Dr. Art Kellermann said earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Extramural support for firearm injury prevention research quickly dried up. Even today, 17 years after this legislative action, the CDC's website lacks specific links to information about preventing firearm-related violence.”
Following the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, President Barack Obama in January signed an executive order directing the CDC to resume research on gun violence. However, funding for this has not yet been made available.
"The administration is calling on Congress to provide $10 million for the CDC to conduct further research, including investigating the relationship between video games, media images, and violence," says CDC spokesman Tom Skinner. "New funding is being proposed for FY 2014, and any funding for research activities would begin when these funds are appropriated or other funds are made available," he says.
In June, the Institutes of Medicine released a report listing priorities for gun violence research, such as the effectiveness of gun safety technology and the role of violent video games.
The Pediatrics journal study was funded by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the findings are based on enrollment information for a longer-term study.
"The more we understand the populations of at risk youth behavior and the more we understand the marketplace of how at-risk youth obtain this product and the more we understand the environments in which these at-risk youth are trying to make the best decision, or not, the better we're going to be able to reduce these bad events, firearm violence, and perhaps create environments that enable youths to make better decisions,” says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin.