Bullied teens are more likely to access a loaded gun


Guns already contribute to too many injuries and deaths among teenagers, and a recent report suggests that adolescents who are bullied at school might be more likely to access a loaded gun than their peers.

Guns already contribute to too many injuries and deaths among teenagers, and a recent report suggests that adolescents who are bullied at school might be more likely to access a loaded gun than their peers.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, revealed that school-aged teenagers who are bullied are 3 times more likely to report access to a loaded gun. This, according to researchers, could increase their chances of being involved in gun violence.

Although bullying and gun access aren’t necessarily related or causative of one another, when both are present it could create additional vulnerability for adolescents who might hurt themselves or someone else, says Maayan Simckes, a PhD student in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington in Seattle, and co-author of the report.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 10,000 adolescents aged 12 to 18 years who participated in the 2011 and 2013 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. The questions in the supplement, completed every other year, are designed to find out about students’ experiences in the school environment and include topics such as school security, bullying, access to weapons, and more.

More: Childhood firearm injuries continue to be a public problem

Overall, 4% of the students who participated in the study reported that they could access a loaded gun without adult permission. That statistic becomes more startling when data on bullying are added, Simckes says.

The research team found that students who experienced traditional bullying-verbal or physical-were twice as likely to report access to a loaded gun without permission. Students who experienced cyberbullying were 3 times more likely to report access to a loaded gun, and students who experienced both types of bullying were 6 times more likely to report gun access.

There were slight sociodemographic differences among students who reported gun access overall compared with those who didn’t. When bullying was a factor, there was similar prevalence among both males and females reporting gun access; 3.6% of males and 1.8% of females who were not bullied reported gun access.

Reports of gun access also varied by the type of bullying experience, according to the report. Whereas 2.8% of students who reported no bullying had access to guns, 5.2% of students who faced traditional bullying, 9.2% of those who experienced cyberbullying, and 15% of those who experienced both types of bullying reported having access to a loaded gun.

Gun violence causes thousands of deaths each year, and accidental injury, such as from firearms, is a leading cause of death in teenagers. In 2015, there were 1881 fatal and 9297 nonfatal gun-related injuries in the studied age group (12 to 18 years), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bullying is also widespread, with education experts estimating that 18% to 31% of all school-aged students have been bullied by their peers, making them more likely to experience depression, isolation, anxiety, and low self-esteem. These students also run a higher risk of becoming injured, attempting suicide, or experimenting with illegal substances.

Prior research on gun access among adolescents has focused on in-home access, but Simckes says there have also been reports that show teenagers have access to guns through other means, including at a friend’s home or even at school.

Simckes says bullying and unsupervised gun access among school-aged children can be measured and prevented through educational campaigns at school and at home; through conversations in the healthcare setting and the community; and through public policy measures. More research is needed to determine the best approach, but pediatricians can start the discussion by talking about safety at home, gun safety, and finding out about what kind of experiences their patients are having at school.

“Pediatricians are in a unique position to promote the safety and well-being of adolescents and their families. Pediatricians have been encouraged by medical and public health professional organizations to include conversations about gun safety as a central part of a checkup,” says Simckes. “The inclusion of such conversation may become even more important if a pediatrician suspects that a child is being bullied in school. Our study shows that unauthorized access to loaded guns and bullying victimization are strongly related and should be addressed as 2 risk factors for firearm injury and death among adolescents.”

Next: Are parents receptive to counseling on firearms?

The research team reports that targeted interventions aimed at helping victims of bullying should also address firearm access.

“Firearm access among these individuals may confer a different level of risk for interpersonal violence compared with those who are only targets of bullying. Access to loaded guns may place high-risk adolescents and those around them at even greater risk of injury, death, and crime victimization,” the report states. “Such access is necessary for adolescents to engage in routine gun carrying, which increases the risk of perpetrating a gun-related crime.”



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