Summary of Initial Findings from CDC-Funded Firearm Injury Prevention Research

Helping to better understand and prevent firearm violence and injuries impacting children and teens

Injuries and deaths from firearms impact many children and teens, their families, and their communities in the United States. Taking into account all types of firearm injuries, including homicides, suicides, and unintentional injuries, firearm injuries were the leading cause of death among children and teens ages 1-19 in 2020 and 2021.

CDC-funded researchers are studying how to better understand and prevent firearm violence and injuries impacting children and teens by answering key questions: How does frequent exposure to violence affect young people?  How are social inequities associated with youth exposure to firearm violence? How do we better support children and teens at high risk of experiencing gun violence? What risks are associated with gun carrying among children growing up in rural areas? How do mass shootings impact young people?

Answering these and other important questions can help break cycles of violence and prevent firearm violence for future generations. As grantees publish findings from CDC-funded research, summaries will be developed to support awareness and dissemination of results to inform prevention and future research. Here is a look at what some of the CDC-supported research teams have uncovered so far about firearm violence and injuries impacting children and teens.

University of California at Davis researchers are learning how children and teens experience gun violence in big cities and its impacts on their health.

The University of California at Davis research team found that 1 in 4 youth live within a half mile of where at least one gun homicide happened in the past year. Black and Latinx youth were more likely to experience a gun homicide, experienced incidents more recently, and had incidents closer to home when compared to White youth.

The team found significant mental health effects of this exposure to gun homicide. Boys in the most disadvantaged communities, particularly Black boys, were at the greatest risk of exposure to gun violence and depression.

In another study, the researchers studied “collective efficacy.” Collective efficacy means that neighbors work together, trust each other, and are willing to intervene for the common good. It can be a powerful factor in preventing community violence. They found that adolescents living in lower income households in neighborhoods with high collective efficacy, had the same risk of firearm violence exposure to adolescents in middle- or high-income households in neighborhoods with low collective efficacy.  This underscores the importance of programs to enhance neighborhood social ties to prevent gun violence.

Researchers at the University of Washington have learned about patterns and associations of handgun carrying unique to youth in rural areas and how to better impact key risk factors for firearm violence.  

University of Washington researchers first looked at national survey data. They found that handgun carrying by youth has increased by the largest amount in the country’s most rural areas, rising from 5.2% in 2003 to 12.4% in 2019.

When they looked closer at patterns of handgun carrying over time in 7 states, they found that the earliest average age when youth in rural areas started carrying guns was 12 years old. On average, youth who carried handguns had higher odds of engaging in physical violence, like fights or assaults, in adolescence.

In another analysis, the research team found that youth who carry guns to school are at higher risk for having attacked someone. Eighty-four percent (84%) reported attacking someone with the idea of hurting them, compared to 51% of youth who carried a gun but not to school, and 23% of those who never carried a gun.

University of Washington researchers also studied the impact of a violence prevention system known as Communities That Care. This program provides a formal structure for local partners to select and implement the most relevant evidence-based programs. They found that middle- and high school students in rural towns implementing the program were 27% less likely to carry a handgun in the past year. The results underscore the potential for early prevention programs to reduce the risk for firearm injury and violence.

Researchers at Northwestern University are working to better understand the needs of young people involved with the juvenile justice system who are at particularly high risk of experiencing firearm violence.

Northwestern University researchers studied data from young people arrested or detained in Cook County, Chicago, following up with them for more than 15 years into adulthood.

The research team found that more than 3 out of 4 boys and 3 out of 5 girls had been threatened with a weapon before age 18. Nearly one in 10 boys had been shot, with significant disparities —nearly 1 in 4 Hispanic male youth were injured by a gunshot before age 18.

In adulthood, 41.3% of males and 10.5% of females engaged in firearm violence (i.e., threatening with or using a firearm). The adults involved with firearms as adolescents were at higher risk of later gun violence.

These researchers’ findings draw attention to the needs of those involved with the criminal justice system at a young age. Preventing community violence and addressing trauma from experiencing violence by ensuring access to mental health services can help prevent future involvement in gun violence.

Researchers at RTI International looked at crisis hotline data to better understand how mass shootings impact young people.

RTI researchers studied trend data from Crisis Text Line. This not-for-profit provides free, 24/7 mental health support via text message. The service is popular among youth since they prefer text messaging over a traditional telephone hotline. Crisis Text Line provides research partners with data in a secure way, removing any potentially identifying information.

RTI researchers looked at conversations before and after the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The shooting resulted in a significant increase in conversations about firearms, with the largest spike the day after the event. Conversations about grief increased the most during this time.

Their research offers insights into the ripple effects of mass shootings on young people, including psychological impacts. It may also help future researchers because RTI developed new procedures for analyzing large-scale text data from real-time data sources and demonstrating how this novel data source can inform firearm violence prevention research.