Public Release: 

Use of guns by teens for threats more likely than for self-defense

The JAMA Network Journals

CHICAGO - California adolescents are much more likely to be threatened with a gun than to use a gun in self-defense, according to an article in the April issue of The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to information in the article, the United States has more guns, particularly handguns, per capita than any other high-income country, and has higher rates of homicide for adults and children. However, shootings that result in death represent only a small percentage of incidents related to gun violence, the article states.

David Hemenway, Ph.D., and Matthew Miller, M.D., M.P.H., Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, surveyed 5,800 California adolescents aged 12 through 17 between November 1, 2000 and October 31, 2001 regarding their relationship with guns. The researchers also collected demographic data.

Of the adolescents surveyed, 43 percent were non-Hispanic whites, 39 percent were Hispanics, 8 percent were non-Hispanic Asians, 5 percent were non-Hispanic blacks, and 4 percent identified themselves as belonging to another race/ethnicity. Ninety-eight percent of the adolescents were in school, and 20 percent reported living in a home with a gun.

"Approximately 4 percent of the adolescent reported ever having been threatened with a gun; only 0.3 percent reported using a gun in self-defense," write the researchers. "Boys, smokers, adolescents who threatened others, and adolescents whose parents knew little about their whereabouts in the afternoon after school were more likely to report being threatened with a gun. Most episodes of self-defense gun use seem to be hostile interactions between adolescents with weapons," the authors write.

They also found that threats against adolescents with guns took place mostly within the contexts of arguments, robberies or threats by strangers for no apparent reason.

The authors conclude, "our results suggest that gun threats against adolescents in California are far more common that gun uses by them in self-defense. It appears that gun threats against adolescents - at least for those instances when there was sufficient description to determine the age of the aggressor and what happened - are mainly by other adolescents and that the typical self-defense gun use involves teenagers in armed confrontations."


To contact David Hemenway, Ph.D., call Kevin Myron at 617-432-3952.

(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2004;158:395-400. Available post-embargo at
Editor's Note: This research was funded by the Joyce Foundation, Chicago, Ill., and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Los Altos, Calif.

For more information, contact JAMA/Archives Media Relations at 312-464-JAMA (5262) or e-mail .

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