23% of assault-injured youth in an urban hospital ER reported possession of a firearm, most illegally — showing key opportunities for violence prevention
They’re young. They’ve been injured in an assault – so badly they went to the emergency room. And nearly one in four of them has a gun, probably an illegal one. What happens next?
A new study by the University of Michigan Injury Center provides data that could be important to breaking the cycle of gun violence that kills more teens and young adults than anything except auto accidents.
In the new issue of the journal Pediatrics, the team from the U-M Injury Center reports data from interviews with 689 teens and young adults who came to an emergency department in Flint, Mich. for treatment of injuries from an assault.
In all, 23 percent of the patients reported they owned or carried a gun in the last six months – and more than 80 percent of those guns were obtained illegally. Of those with guns, 22 percent said it was a highly lethal automatic or semiautomatic weapon. The study excluded guns used for recreational hunting and target practice.
Those with guns were also more likely that those without guns at their disposal to have been in a serious fight in recent months, to use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs, and to express approval for retaliation after an injury.
“This study zeroes in on a high-risk population of assault injured youth that has not been studied in this way previously,” says lead-author Patrick Carter, M.D., a clinical lecturer and injury research fellow in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the U-M Medical School and substance abuse section of the Department of Psychiatry.
“The high rates of substance use, fighting and attitudes favoring retaliation, combined with the fact that so many of these youth had firearms, increases their risk for future firearm violence, as well as injury or death. But, our findings also provide an opportunity for public health interventions that could decrease their future firearm violence risk.”
Though the study did not evaluate the possible use of the emergency visit as a “teachable moment” to help at-risk youth understand the potential consequences of gun violence, such approaches have been tried successfully for other situations including substance use and youth violence. The study may lead to tests of a new approach for helping teens and young adults avoid future firearm-related violence.