Abstract: Weapon Carrying Among Youth: Testing Competing Hypotheses Among Risk Factors (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Weapon Carrying Among Youth: Testing Competing Hypotheses Among Risk Factors

Saturday, January 15, 2022
Archives, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Patricia Logan-Greene, PhD, Associate Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Mickey Sperlich, PhD, Assistant Professor, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Ashley Buchanan, Student, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY
Background and purpose:

Violence in the US remains a serious public health problem with disproportionate effects on the those most vulnerable. For example, homicide is the leading cause of death for Black males between the ages of 1 and 44 (CDC, 2019). Firearms were used in approximately 87% of those deaths (Violence Policy Center, 2020), and Americans are 15 times more likely than our counterparts in developed nations to die from firearm injury. Thus, understanding weapon carrying among young people is important to prevent injuries and deaths. This study uses longitudinal data to examine three competing theorized risk factors for weapon-carrying: peer delinquency, history of witnessing violence, and neighborhood crime. We also test whether these risk factors operate similarly for weapon-carrying versus other forms of delinquency.


LONGSCAN is a multisite consortium that examined development among at-risk children using shared, repeated measures until age 18. This analysis uses data from ages 14-18: risk factors (peer delinquency, history of witnessing violence, neighborhood crime) and demographics (gender, race, family income) from age 14 were used to predict weapon-carrying and delinquency (e.g., stealing, vandalism) at ages 16 and 18. Analysis first examined bivariate correlations among study variables followed by multiple and linear regressions for delinquency and weapon-carrying.


10.8% and 18.3% of the sample reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife, etc.) in the last year at ages 16 and 18 respectfully. Peer delinquency had significant small-to-moderate correlations (r=0.98-0.345) with delinquency and weapons carrying at both 16 and 18; the correlations with witnessed violence were also significant but smaller (r=0.084-0.166). Neighborhood crime was not significantly related to delinquency or weapon-carrying. Multiple regressions predicting delinquency at ages 16 and 18 showed similar results, with the strongest coefficient being peer delinquency for age 16 delinquency (Beta=0.297). Logistic regressions for weapons carrying found that peer delinquency was the strongest predictor at age 16 (OR=5.874), but witnessing violence was strongest for age 18 (OR=2.165). Females were far less likely to carry weapons at both time points (ORs=0.475 and 0.347). Race was not a significant predictor in any model.

Discussion: The results of this study suggest that weapon-carrying is common and increases between ages 16 and 18. Peer influences mattered more for weapon-carrying at age 16; by age 18, a history of witnessing violence was a stronger contributor. Theories that may explain these differences for adolescents who are leaving high school and operating more as independent adults include self-protection (Lewis et al., 2007) and fear of victimization (Docherty et al., 2019). The patterns for general delinquency were distinct in that both risk factors were significant at both time points. Our finding that race was not predictive of weapon-carrying differed from other research showing increased risk for Black adolescents over white adolescents (Beardslee et al., 2018) for gun carrying. Gender differences and lack of neighborhood influences also merit attention. Social workers who work with at-risk adolescents should be aware of the risk factors of and increased propensity for weapon carrying and potential injury to self or others.