Guns and Youth - Young, Armed, And Dangerous
inmates students reported dealers
Much of the violent activity among young people can be attributed to youth gangs, which tend to be concentrated in poor, inner-city neighborhoods. Do youth gangs supply their members with guns and teach them how to use them? According to a U.S. Department of Justice
(DOJ) study, that is how the media depicts youth gangs. But the DOJ theorized that "it is equally plausible that gangs recruit boys who already own guns and are well versed in their use" (Alan Lizotte and David Sheppard, "Gun Use by Male Juveniles: Research and Prevention," Juvenile Justice Bulletin, July 2001).
The DOJ began studying the problem of youth gangs in 1970. In a special report released in 2001 (The Growth of Youth Gang Problems in the United States: 1970–1998), DOJ researchers noted that nineteen states reported gang problems in the early 1970s. By the late 1990s, all fifty states and the District of Columbia reported gang problems. In 1998 the states with the largest number of gang-problem cities were California (363), Illinois (261), Texas (156), Florida (125), and Ohio (86). The report lists seven reasons for the increase in the number of gang-problem localities: drugs, immigration, gang names and alliances, migration, government policies, female-headed households, and gang subculture and the media.
A study by the National Institute of Justice (part of the Department of Justice) inquired into the level and nature of juvenile gun possession in high-risk neighborhoods (Gun Acquisition and Possession in Selected Juvenile Samples, Washington, D.C., 1993). Although dated, it is the only study of its kind. The researchers wanted to determine the number and type of firearms owned and where, how, and why they were obtained. They surveyed 835 male serious offenders incarcerated in six juvenile correctional facilities in four states and 758 male students in ten inner-city high school facilities. The experiences and responses of these juveniles may be different from those of the general population because the students and
inmates surveyed came from environments marked by crime and violence.
The average inmate's age was seventeen; 84% were non-white; and the average educational level attained was tenth grade. More than half of the inmates were from big cities of at least 250,000 residents. Half had committed robbery, and two-thirds had committed burglary.
The mean (middle) age of the students was sixteen; 97% were non-white; and the average education level attained was tenth grade. Most students were from cities of more than 250,000 people. 42% of the students reported having been arrested or picked up by the police at least once; 22% had been arrested or picked up "many" times. Nine percent reported having used a weapon to commit a crime.
SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT. The juvenile inmates in the National Institute of Justice study came from environments where gun possession and violence were common. Four of every ten inmates had siblings who had also been incarcerated, and 47% had siblings who owned guns legally or illegally. Seventy-nine percent of the inmates came from families in which at least some of the males owned guns, and 62% had male family members who routinely carried guns outside the home. About four-fifths (79%) of the inmates reported that they had been threatened with a gun or had been shot. Half had been stabbed with a knife.
The social world of the students was almost as dangerous. Sixty-nine percent had males in their families who owned guns. Two of five reported that males in their families routinely carried guns outside the home. More than half had friends who owned guns; 42% had friends who routinely carried guns outside the home. Like the inmates, the students were frequently threatened and victimized by violence—45% had been threatened with a gun or shot at on the way to or from school in the previous few years. One in ten had been stabbed, and one in three had been beaten up in school or on the way to school. Nearly a fifth (17%) had been wounded with some form of weapon other than a knife or a gun in or near the school.
These inmates and students gave various reasons for owning a gun. Most said they carried guns for self-protection. More than half of the inmates and almost one-third of the students said they carried firearms because their enemies had guns. Fewer inmates and students admitted to carrying guns in order to "get someone" or to use them in a crime.
Types of firearms owned varied, and weapons of choice were high-quality, powerful revolvers, automatic and semiautomatic handguns, and shotguns. In fact, eight out of ten inmates owned at least one firearm and two-thirds owned at least three just prior to their confinement. Nearly one-quarter of the students possessed a gun and 15% reported owning three or more guns.
EASY TO ACQUIRE GUNS. Most of those surveyed by the National Institute of Justice thought it would be easy to acquire a gun. Only 13% of the inmates and 35% of the students thought it would be a lot of trouble or nearly impossible. When asked how they would get a gun, 45% of the inmates and 53% of the students would "borrow" one from family or friends, while 54% of the inmates and 37% of the students said they would get one "off the street." More than one-third of inmates and students bought guns from family members or friends. For the inmates, drug dealers and addicts were also considered good sources.
More than half the inmates had stolen a gun at least once, compared with 8% of the students. When the inmates sold or traded the guns they had stolen, they generally did so to friends or other trusted persons. Thus, these juveniles both supplied guns to and obtained guns from an informal network of family, friends, and street sources.
GUN DEALING. A large, informal street market in guns flourished in their neighborhoods. Forty-five percent of the juvenile inmates could be described as gun dealers since they had bought, sold, or traded "a lot" of guns. The majority of dealers reported their most common source as theft from homes or cars and acquisitions from drug addicts. About one-sixth (16%) had bought guns out-of-state for purposes of gun dealing, another 7% had done so in-state, and nearly one in ten had stolen guns in quantity from stores or off trucks during shipment.
The survey found two different types of gun dealers. One group (77%) was made up of juveniles who occasionally came into possession of surplus firearms and then sold or traded them to street sources. The other group (23%) was more systematic in its gun-dealing activities and was always on the lookout for a good deal.
DRUG DEALING AND GUN ACTIVITY. The majority of juvenile inmates (72%) and 18% of high school students had either sold drugs or worked for someone who did. Among those who had sold drugs or had worked for dealers, 89% of the inmates and 79% of the students had carried guns. Of the inmate dealers, 60% were very likely to carry guns during drug transactions, and 63% had fired guns during those transactions. Nearly half of the juvenile inmates who had ever stolen guns had also sold at least some of them to drug dealers. Six percent had bought guns from drug dealers.
REASONS FOR SHOOTING SOMEONE. The National Institute of Justice researchers asked the inmates and students about their attitudes toward violence. One-quarter (25%) of the inmates and 10% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that "it is okay to shoot a person if that is what it takes to get something you want." Nearly three of ten (29%) of the inmates and 10% of the students agreed or strongly agreed that it was "okay to shoot some guy who doesn't belong in your neighborhood." About three-fifths (61%) of the inmates and 28% of the students considered it "okay to shoot someone who hurts or insults you."