Objective: Relatively little is known about the behavior of adolescents around firearms. The present investigation was undertaken to estimate the proportion of community-residing adolescents who report that they have ever handled a gun without adult knowledge or supervision.
Methods: A random digit dial interview was conducted with 5801 California adolescents as part of the California Health Interview Survey. Respondents were asked whether they have ever held a gun and whether they have ever done so without adult knowledge or supervision. Study design and population weights were applied to these data. In addition, adolescents’ reports about the most recent unsupervised handling incident were coded to ascertain what they were doing with the gun as well as with whom and where the incident occurred.
Results: One third (33%) of California adolescents report that they have handled a firearm; 5% report that they have done so without adult knowledge or supervision. Half (49%) of all unsupervised handling involved shooting and only 11% occurred in the respondent’s home. Several demographic variables (being male, African American, living in a rural area) and risk behaviors (smoking, drinking, being the victim of a gun related threat), as well as having a gun in the home and parents not knowing the adolescent’s whereabouts in the afternoon were each associated with unsupervised gun handling.
Conclusions: Unsupervised gun handling is associated with other health risk behaviors. Unsupervised gun handling typically involves shooting the gun and usually occurs with friends, away from the home.
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