Rates and Correlates of Risky Firearm Behaviors among Adolescents and Young Adults Treated in an Urban Emergency Department

Carter, P. M., Mouch, C. A., Goldstick, J. E., Walton, M. A., Zimmerman, M. A., Resnicow, K., & Cunningham, R. M. (2020). Rates and Correlates of Risky Firearm Behaviors among Adolescents and Young Adults Treated in an Urban Emergency DepartmentPreventive medicine130, 105891.


Firearm violence is a leading cause of death for urban adolescents and young adults (A/YAs). Little is known about patterns of risky firearm behaviors (RFBs) that may increase firearm-related fatality and non-fatal injury risk. To inform prevention efforts, we examined the rates and correlates of RFBs, including firearm carriage in risky situations (e.g., while drunk/high), discharge in risky situations (e.g., fleeing police), and firearm aggression (e.g., firearm threats/use against a partner/non-partner), among a sample of A/YAs (age-16-29) seeking medical or injury related care (7/2017–6/2018) at a Level-1 urban Emergency Department (ED). In total, 1312 A/YAs completed the survey (mean-age 23.2; 29.6%-male; 50.5%-Black; 56.3%-public assistance), with 102 (7.8%) engaging in RFBs. Among those engaging in RFBs, 42% reported firearm ownership, 68.6% firearm carriage in high-risk situations, 39.2% firearm discharge in risky situations, and 41.2% reported partner/non-partner firearm aggression. Regression identified RFBs correlates, including older age (AOR = 1.09), male sex (AOR = 1.63), Black race/ethnicity (AOR = 2.01), substance misuse (AOR = 2.75), attitudes favoring firearm use/retaliation (AOR = 1.38), peer firearm ownership/carriage (AOR = 3.26), higher levels of community violence exposure (AOR = 1.05), and active parole/probation (AOR 2.38). Higher coping skills were protective for RFBs (AOR = 0.83). Overall, we found that A/YAs seeking urban ED treatment reported elevated RFB rates, emphasizing the need for novel prevention initiatives, especially those incorporating tailored content addressing substance use, retaliatory violence, and peer delinquency/norms, while enhancing self-efficacy for avoiding RFBs and providing access to external resources within a resiliency-based framework. Such prevention approaches may be a critical step towards addressing the public health problem of firearm violence.

Keywords: Firearm behaviors/violence, substance use, youth violence, emergency department