Article Text

Download PDFPDF

Firearm access, carriage and use in an ethnically diverse sample of young adults in Texas, USA
  1. Yu Lu1,
  2. Elizabeth Baumler2,
  3. Annalyn Saludares DeMello3,
  4. Leila Wood2,
  5. Hillary McGuire4,
  6. Jeff R. Temple5
  1. 1Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK, USA
  2. 2McGovern Medical School, The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX, USA
  3. 3School of Nursing, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, TX, USA
  4. 4Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Oklahoma City, OK, USA
  5. 5School of Behavioral Health Sciences, The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, TX, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Yu Lu, Department of Health and Exercise Science, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK 73019, USA;{at}


Background Despite the high rates of firearm ownership and firearm-related injuries and mortalities in Southern US states, understandings on the factors contributing to these are lacking.

Methods Using wave 10 (2021) data from a longitudinal study, we examined firearm-related experiences among 636 ethnically diverse young adults (mean age=26 years; 62% female) in Texas, USA.

Results Just over half of participants had ready access to firearms, with 22.3% having carried a firearm outside of their home, 4.9% having been threatened with a firearm by a romantic partner and 4.4% by a non-romantic partner. More firearm access and carriage were reported in males, white participants and those with >US$50 000 income. More females than males had been threatened with a firearm by a romantic partner, but more males than females had been threatened by a non-partner. Participants with recent financial difficulties were proportionally more likely to be threatened with a firearm than those without difficulties.

Conclusion Findings emphasise the alarming rate of firearm access and carriage in Texas and highlight the disparities in firearms experiences by sociodemographic characteristics.

  • Firearm
  • Cohort Study
  • Socioeconomic Status

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.


  • The Southern US states, including Texas, report high rates of firearm ownership, injuries, homicide and suicide, but understandings on factors contributing to these are lacking.


  • We examined 636 young adults residing in the state of Texas and identified disparities in firearm experiences by sociodemographic characteristics.


  • Although firearm violent prevention programmes should cross all demographics, special attention should be directed towards those with economic hardships and women in violent relationships.


Each year, over 40 000 Americans die from firearms.1 Firearms have become the leading cause of death for youth and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24.2 The Southern US states report high rates of firearm ownership,3 injuries,4 homicide3 and suicide.1 Thus, we must take a region-specific approach to understanding and preventing firearm violence. In the state of Texas, in the year 2021 alone, 4613 individuals died of firearm.5 Despite this clear public health crisis, we have a limited understanding of even basic knowledge about accessing, carrying and using firearms. This study examines firearm-related experiences (accessing, carrying, threatening and being threatened) in an ethnically diverse sample of young adults in Texas and explores whether differences emerge by gender, race, education and financial well-being.


Participants and procedure

We examined data from wave 10 (spring 2021) of our ongoing longitudinal study6 of 1042 adolescents recruited in 2010 from mandated classes in public high schools in southeast Texas, USA. At wave 10, 755 participants completed the survey (retention rate from baseline: 72.5%). After excluding those who did not answer the firearm questions (n=14) and did not report Texas residence (n=119), we retained an analytical sample of 636 young adults in Texas. Participant characteristics are reported in table 1.

Table 1

Participant characteristics and firearm-related experiences in young adults in Texas, USA, 2021 (n=636)


Participants reported seven types of firearm-related experiences, including access (‘do you have access to a gun if you needed or wanted one?’), firearm owner at home (‘do you or does someone living in your home own a gun?’), carrying (carried a gun outside of the home, including in the car, for non-hunting/target shooting/job-related purposes in the past year), threatened and being threatened by a romantic partner (in the past year) or non-romantic partner (ever). In addition to standard demographic questions (age, gender, race, education and past year income), participants responded to six items on a 5-point scale (1=not at all) and (5=extremely) to the question ‘In the past year, how hard was it for you to …(1) afford good housing (safe, permanent and affordable), (2) afford enough healthy food, (3) afford the medical care you and your family need, (4) pay utilities such as water, electricity, gas and phone and internet, (5) pay for everything you need each month and (6) have money for things you think of as extras’ (Cronbach’s α=0.90). Responses were dichotomised and combined such that individuals were coded as having financial difficulty if they endorsed at least ‘a little’ (ie, 2 and above) hardship with any of the first five financial items that assessed essential life needs.

Statistical analysis

We analysed data in SPSS V.28.0 for Mac.7 We examined frequencies and percentages for each of the seven firearm-related experiences and, using χ2 tests, examined whether firearm-related experiences differed by gender, race, education, income and financial difficulty. The two firearm-threatening perpetration questions were excluded from this analysis due to relatively low endorsement. We used Fisher’s exact test when the expected cell count was too small for χ2 tests.


Participants’ reports of firearm-related experiences are shown in table 1. Among young adults who reported carrying a firearm (n=142), most (93.4%) reported doing so out of a need for protection or to feel safe. The type of firearm carried included an automatic or semiautomatic handgun (71.9%), revolver/regular handgun (20.9%), regular rifle (2.9%), regular shotgun (3.6%) and sawed-off shotgun (0.7%). The primary means of obtaining the carried firearm were through purchase (82.1%) and given or loaned by a family member (14.3%) or friend (3.6%).

As shown in tables 2 and 3, χ2 tests suggested that young adults with firearm access consisted largely of males (vs females, 63.6% vs 47.1%, χ2=16.31, p<0.001), white participants (vs Hispanic, black or other, 66.3% vs 49.8%, 45.3%, 46.4%, χ2=18.97, p<0.001), those who reported >US$50 000 past year income (vs US$1–US$50 000, 66.7% vs 49.6%, χ2=12.65, p<0.001) and reported no financial difficulties (vs having financial difficulties, 60.8% vs 51.1%, χ2=4.28, p<0.05). Similarly, larger proportions of males (vs females, 52.3% vs 42.2%, χ2=6.16, p<0.05), white participants (vs Hispanic, black or other, 62.6% vs 42.9%, 35.6%, 34.8%, χ2=31.93, p<0.001) and those who reported >US$50 000 past year income (vs US$1–US$50 000, 53.6% vs 43.9%, χ2=4.14, p<0.05) had a firearm at home.

Table 2

Differences in firearm-related experiences by gender and race in young adults in Texas, USA, 2021

Table 3

Differences in firearm-related experiences by education and financial difficulty in young adults in Texas, USA, 2021

Carrying a firearm outside of the home not for hunting/target shooting/work was more frequently reported by males (vs females, 34.3% vs 15.1%, χ2=31.70, p<0.001), white participants (vs Hispanic or other, 31.0% vs 17.4%, 14.5%, χ2=13.71, p<0.01), those without a college degree (vs college graduates, 23.9% vs 16.1%, χ2=4.56, p<0.05) and those who reported >US$50 000 past year income (vs US$1–US$50 000, 30.4% vs 20.1%, χ2=6.68, p<0.05).

With respect to firearm victimisation, a larger proportion of females (7.1%) than males (1.3%) had been threatened with a firearm by a romantic partner, χ2=10.86, p<0.001, while more males (6.7%) than females (3.0%) had been threatened with a firearm by a non-romantic partner, χ2=4.78, p<0.05. Larger proportions of those reported US$1–US$50 000 past year income (vs >US$50 000, 5.8% vs 1.4%, χ2=4.47, p<0.05) and these with past year financial difficulties (vs without difficulties, 6.0% vs 1.4%, χ2=5.13, p<0.05) had been threatened with a firearm by a romantic partner. Larger proportions of those without a college degree (vs college graduates, 5.5% vs 0.5%, χ2=8.61, p<0.01) or reported financial difficulties (vs without difficulties, 5.3% vs 1.4%, χ2=4.28, p<0.05) had been threatened with a firearm by a non-partner.


In a large ethnically diverse sample of young adults in Texas, USA, 46% reported having a firearm in their household, higher than the national average of 35% in young adults and 41% among adults of all ages.8 Additionally, more than half of the participants had ready access to firearms and a sizeable minority carried firearms for reasons other than sport or job requirements. Future research should examine whether and how regional cultural contexts9 and polices10 contribute to firearm-related experiences.

Gender differences emerged in the expected direction with respect to firearm access and firearm owner at home (ie, males higher11). Our findings are consistent with gender norms that favour firearm behaviours among males.6 12 13 Relatedly, prior research has identified a link between firearm ownership and conformity to masculine role norms that emphasise violence and risk taking.12 Higher firearm access among males possibly marks a greater likelihood of being in risky situations, which is consistent with our finding that males were more likely to have been threatened with a firearm by someone who is not a romantic partner. Firearm threat victimisation by a romantic partner was reported more frequently in females, those that had lower annual income and those who reported past year financial difficulty. Targeted intervention for this group is imperative.

Firearm access, ownership and carriage were reported more frequently by white respondents and those with higher incomes. Accordingly, prior research suggests that American adults are generally more supportive of white than black individuals owning a firearm for self-protection,14 and the vast majority of black adults (82%) think firearm violence is a big problem in the USA compared with 39% of white adults.8 However, contrary to the stereotypical media portrayal of black male criminality, our study found no racial/ethnic difference in firearm threat victimisation. This may be related to the fact that our sample was primarily individuals with lower socioeconomic status, who grew up and lived in Texas, exposed to the same firearm-related cultural context and policies. For them, economic indicators, including education (ie, no college attendance), lower income and past year financial difficulties, instead of race/ethnicity, played a significant role with firearm-threatening experiences. This is consistent with trends identified in firearm homicide rates.1 15

Notably, almost all participants (93.4%) cited self-protection as the reason for firearm carriage. These data were collected concurrent to the COVID-19 pandemic and supports a recent study, which found that individuals who intend to or who acquired a firearm during the COVID-19 pandemic endorsed exaggerated thoughts of being threatened and experienced more COVID-19-related fear.16 Together with our findings, this suggests that less formal education and more fear about one’s safety incentivises firearm access or carriage. However, our findings also suggest that perceived risk may not reflect actual risk, as those who had firearm access (with higher income) did not have higher likelihood to be threatened by a firearm, instead, those who had financial difficulty were at greater risk, similar to prior research.17 Notably, we collected data during the COVID-19 pandemic when rising incidences of interpersonal violence,18 including intimate partner violence17 were observed. This is important as individuals with lower educational attainment were generally more likely to be in professions that were negatively affected by the pandemic.

Despite several strengths (eg, large ethnically diverse sample, robust measure of firearm-related experiences), the study is limited by its regional nature (may not generalise to other areas of the country), cross-sectional design (cannot infer temporality), reliance on bivariate relationships as opposed to potential interaction among variables, not including rural/urban residence information and not differentiating habitual versus ever carrying a firearm.


In many US states, it has become increasingly easy to access and carry firearms.19 To reduce firearm violence and promote gun safety, we need to better understand factors that increase their access, carriage and use. Findings suggest that although intervention programmes should cross all demographics, special attention should be directed towards women in violent relationships and those with economic hardships. Building structural supports to increase domestic safety and to encourage higher education can lessen the risk of firearm violence victimisation, before, during and after a pandemic.

Ethics statements

Patient consent for publication

Ethics approval

This study involves human participants and was approved by University of Texas Medical Branch Institutional Review Board. Participants gave informed consent to participate in the study before taking part.



  • Contributors Study conceptualisation: all authors; Funding acquisition: JRT; data collection: EB and JRT; data analysis: YL and EB; manuscript drafting: YL; manuscript revision and editing: all authors.

  • Funding This research was supported by Award Number K23HD059916 (PI: Temple) from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and 2012-WG-BX-0005 (PI: Temple) from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).

  • Disclaimer The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NICHD or NIJ.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.