This study examined the association between firearm involvement during adolescence and subsequent firearm perpetration and ownership in adulthood among youth involved in the juvenile justice system.
Preventing firearm violence requires understanding its antecedents. Yet no comprehensive longitudinal study has examined how involvement with firearms during adolescence—use, access, and victimization (defined as threatened with a weapon or gunshot injury)—is associated with the perpetration of firearm violence in adulthood. The current cohort study analyzed interview responses of 1,829 randomly selected participants as part of the Northwestern Juvenile Project, a longitudinal study of health needs and outcomes of youth sampled from a temporary juvenile detention center in a large U.S. city. Youth ages 10 to 18 years were interviewed in detention from November 1995 through June 1998. Participants were re-interviewed up to 13 times over 16 years through February 2015, for a total of 17,776 interviews. The sample was stratified by sex, race/ethnicity, age, and legal status (juvenile or adult court). Data were analyzed from April 2017, when data preparation began, through November 2020. The interviews focused on the following firearm involvement experiences during adolescence: use (i.e., threaten, shoot), access (ownership, ease of access, firearm in household, membership in gang that carries firearms), and victimization (gunshot injury, threatened with a weapon). Firearm involvement during adulthood focused on perpetration of firearm violence (i.e., threatening with or using a firearm) and firearm ownership. Among the 1,829 participants, 1,388 had a 16-year follow-up interview (860 males, 528 females, 809 African Americans, 203 non-Hispanic White. 374 Hispanic, and 2 other race/ethnicity, and median age of 32 years). Eighty-five percent of males and 63.2 percent of females were involved with firearms as adolescents. Compared with females, males had significantly higher odds of every type of involvement, except having a firearm in the home. In adulthood, 41.3 percent of males and 10.5 percent of females perpetrated firearm violence. Adolescents who had been threatened with a weapon or injured by firearms had 3.1 (95 percent CI, 2.0-4.9) and 2.4 (95 percent CI, 1.2-4.9) times the odds of perpetrating violence during adulthood. Similar associations were found for firearm ownership. The general conclusion is that Involvement with firearms during adolescence—including victimization—is a significant risk factor for firearm perpetration and ownership during adulthood. (publisher abstract modified)