Does Weapon Carrying Lead to Youth Delinquency and Crime?

By Amanda D. Emmert, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice, Towson University

We find that when youths (14 to 18 years old) carry weapons, they commit more crime than they did before they carried. Regardless of whether youths carry pocket knives or guns, they commit more violent crimes, property crimes, and drug crimes while carrying weapons. So, does weapon carrying lead to youth delinquency and crime? Yes, therefore it is important to prevent youths from carrying weapons.

Property and Drug Crimes Stay Elevated After Weapons are Removed

When youths stop carrying weapons, involvement in violent crime drops to what it was prior to carrying weapons. However, property and drug crimes remain elevated after weapon carrying stops, possibly because youths learn they can participate in these crimes without weapons.  This means that even if youths begin carrying weapons, encouraging them to no longer carry or removing weapons from youths can reduce crime participation.

Youths might carry weapons for safety, to impress friends, or with the express intent to commit crime. Based on these and previous study findings, it is better if youths do not have access to pocket knives, large knives, guns, or other weapons (we were surprised about pocket knives too). The concern is that access to weapons can prompt youths to act ways they wouldn’t if they did not have weapons.

Recommendations to Prevent Youths from Carrying Weapons

Based on our finding that weapon carrying is related to youth crimes, we recommend:

– working with youths to find solutions that do not involve weapons

– adults store weapons securely and check on a regular basis that weapons have not gone missing as access to weapons is a key determinant to criminal behavior

– adults must be alert and talk to youths about what they are doing and what they carry with them

– policies and efforts to remove weapons from youths who carry unsupervised

– supervision of youths when they are using or carrying weapons

Research Design

Our data and analysis:

We use survey data from 1000 youths in Rochester, New York.  We ask youths about their criminal behaviors in the last six months. Participants are interviewed every six months between ages 14 and 18.

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Additional Reading

For more information on the topic of youths and weapons, we recommend reading:

Loftin, C., McDowall, D., Wiersema, B., & Cottey, T. J. (1991). Effects of restrictive licensing of handguns on homicide and suicide in the District of Columbia. The New England Journal of Medicine, 325(23), 1615–1620.

Wells, W., & Horney, J. (2002). Weapon effects and individual intent to do harm: Influences on the escalation of violence. Criminology, 40(2), 265–296.

Wilcox, P., May, D. C., & Roberts, S. D. (2006). Student weapon possession and the “fear and victimization hypothesis”: Unraveling the temporal order. Justice Quarterly, 23(4), 502–529.

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Latest update: May 30, 2018
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