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Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Juveniles and Firearms: A Closer Look

For many juveniles, firearms have become a fact of life. For juvenile offenders, guns have become as common as knives once were. Consider that:

bullet The juvenile arrest rate for weapons laws violations increased by 103 percent between 1983 and 1994; during the same period, the adult arrest rate increased 26 percent.13
bullet In a recent study of 4,000 arrestees in 11 cities, 40 percent of juvenile males reported possessing a firearm at some time.14
bullet A Virginia Department of Criminal Justice study of adult and juvenile inmates found that juveniles were more likely than adults to have carried a semiautomatic pistol in the commission of a crime.15
bullet In 1994, the National School Safety Center estimated that each day about 135,000 students nationwide carried guns into schools.
bullet A 1991 study of a sample of juvenile inmates in four States found that, in particular, juvenile offenders prefer high-quality, large-caliber, concealable handguns.16

Juveniles increasingly are the victims of firearms-related violence. The U.S. Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) reported that more U.S. teenagers die from gunshot wounds than from all natural causes of disease combined.17 In a June 1993 fact sheet, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that firearms are the second leading cause of death for young people 10 to 34 years of age.18 In 1991, the ATF reported that firearms-related mortality accounted for almost half of all deaths among teens; in 1993, 85 percent of 15- to 19-year-old murder victims were killed with a firearm.19

Where Juveniles Get Guns

In November 1993, the ATF initiated a tracing program to identify the source of firearms recovered from juvenile offenders. When doing followup investigations, the ATF's tracing program also seeks to determine in which criminal activities firearms were used and to discover how the juveniles obtained the firearms. Traces are initiated at the request of law enforcement agencies.

In 1993 and 1994, the ATF conducted more than 3,800 traces of firearms recovered from juveniles. In most cases, juveniles were charged with weapons offenses, such as illegal possession of a firearm.20 Of the total firearms recovered, 2,700 were involved in incidents that resulted in charges of weapons violations.21 The ATF also found that 205 of these weapons were used in assaults, 199 in homicides, 156 in incidents involving narcotics, 98 in robberies, 46 in burglaries, and 13 in sexual assaults.22

In 712 followup trace investigations conducted from November 1993 through June 1994 to determine the source of firearms recovered from juveniles, the ATF found that 27 percent of the juveniles had been given firearms by individuals other than parents or guardians and 22 percent had obtained firearms in burglaries or other thefts.23 The investigations also found that 16 percent of the juveniles had purchased their firearms on the street and 15 percent had taken firearms from their homes.24 The ATF was unable to determine how juveniles secured firearms in the remaining 20 percent of the traces.

Juveniles who commit violent crimes involving firearms frequently use stolen guns. The ATF found that 32 percent of firearms used by juveniles in committing violent crimes were taken in burglaries and other thefts, 25 percent were obtained by juveniles from persons other than parents or guardians, and 21 percent were purchased on the street.25


13. Update, supra note 1, at 21.

14. Id.

15. Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Dep't of Justice, Guns Used in Crime 5 (July 1995).

16. Id.

17. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Dep't of the Treasury, The ATF Juvenile Firearms Information 2 (1995) [hereinafter ATF].

18. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Services, Fact Sheet: Firearms Injuries and Fatalities (June 1993).

19. ATF, supra note 17, at 2.

20. Id.

21. Id.

22. Id.

23. Id.

24. Id.

25. Id. at 3.


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