Childhood Risk Factors Associated With Adolescent Gun Carrying Among Black and White Males: An Examination of Self-Protection, Social Influence, and Antisocial Propensity Explanations

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Abstract

Adolescent gun violence is a serious public health issue that disproportionately affects young Black males. Although it has been postulated that differential exposure to childhood risk factors might account for racial differences in adolescent gun carrying, no longitudinal studies have directly examined this issue. We examined whether childhood risk factors indexing neighborhood crime, peer delinquency, and conduct problems predicted the initiation of adolescent gun carrying among a community sample of Black and White boys. Analyses then examined whether racial differences in risk factors accounted for racial differences in gun carrying. Data came from a sample of 485 Black and White boys who were repeatedly assessed from 2nd grade until age 18. Multi-informant data collected across the first 3 years of the study were used to assess neighborhood crime, peer delinquency, and conduct problems. Illegal gun carrying was assessed annually from 5th grade through age 18. Growth curve analyses indicated that children with higher initial levels of conduct problems and delinquent peer involvement, as well as those who increased in conduct problems across childhood, were more likely to carry a gun prior to age 18. Black boys were also more likely to carry guns than Whites. Racial differences were greatly reduced, but not eliminated, after controlling for initial levels of conduct problems and delinquent peer involvement. Findings suggest that early prevention programs designed to reduce adolescent gun violence (including racial disparities in gun violence) should target boys with severe conduct problems and those who affiliate with delinquent peers during elementary school.

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