Methods: Administrative assessment data derive from a diverse sample (N=5,378) of moderate- to high-risk youth on probation in a Northwestern state. Two questions addressed weapons carrying: whether youth had ever had a referral for a weapons charge and whether youth had ever used or threatened someone with a weapon. Bivariate analyses were first conducted with a multi-domain examination of individual histories, risk factors, school problems, family and peer influences. Next, a series of logistic regressions tested the contribution of each set while controlling for demographic factors; the same sets were compared to aggression using linear regression.
Results: 14.2% of the sample reported carrying weapons; they were more likely to be male (15.7% compared to 9.7% females), and slightly more likely to be African American/Black and Mixed/other race; age and family SES variables were not significantly different. At the bivariate level, significant differences were found based on protective skills (e.g., impulse control), current mental health/suicidality, school problems, supportive families, and antisocial beliefs/affiliations. Contrary to expectations, histories of childhood adversity and substance use were not related to weapon carrying. Different patterns emerged when comparing multivariate results of weapon carrying to aggression. Many variables that were related to weapon carrying at the bivariate level did not retain significance in logistic regressions; items that did included impulse control, school problems (but not special education), prosocial beliefs, and gang affiliations. Aggression had strong associations with some factors that were unrelated to weapon carrying in the multivariate context, even after controlling for demographics.
Discussion: An overall picture of weapon carrying among court-involved youth emerges from this analysis that has strong implications for clinicians involved with such high-risk populations, especially in comparison to differences in the models explaining aggression. The lack of significant associations with substance use and childhood adversity are surprising and merit careful attention to theories explaining why some youth carry weapons and others do not. Conversely, findings around mental health problems and overall patterns of antisocial beliefs and behavior are congruent with past research conducted on samples from the general youth population. Many assessment tools for use with high-risk populations may not capture risk factors that are unique to weapon carrying (Koh et al., 2020), indicating a need for focused research to identify and validate those tools in order to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with weapons such as firearms.