Skip to content

Rutgers researchers find lower youth gun carrying rates in states with more gun laws

Gun laws reduce the number of youth carrying guns, regardless of other state-level influences, said John Gunn III, a postdoctoral researcher at the Rutgers Gun Violence Research Center. – Photo by

States that have a higher number of gun laws have lower rates of youth gun carrying, according to a recent Rutgers-led study.

Firearms are the eighth leading cause of juvenile deaths in the U.S., according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention website.

While various factors for juvenile gun carrying have been well-researched, such as race, gender and immediate social environment, only two known studies previously explored the relationship between juvenile gun carrying and gun laws, according to the study.

The researchers analyzed youth weapon and gun carrying data at the state level from 2005 to 2017, according to the study. They found a moderate impact of total gun laws on youth gun carrying rates. 

“Our study focused on the total number of gun laws and did not examine specific gun laws,” said lead author John Gunn III, a postdoctoral associate at the Rutgers New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center. “This is something we are interested in doing with future work.”

He said they used an academic gun law coding system, State Firearm Laws, made by a Boston University professor that scores states based on the number of gun laws they have, as opposed to an advocacy-based system from the Gifford Laws Center or the Brady Campaign, which scores states based on the perceived effectiveness or importance of certain gun laws.

“This is not to say the Brady or Gifford ratings are bad — but they are based on the organization's leanings and perspectives on what makes an important/good law,” Gunn said. “(State Firearm Laws') scoring system does not do this — so it seems more impartial to us.”

Though, he said, some evidence suggests that certain gun laws may be significant. Other researchers have found that child-access-prevention laws may reduce youth gun carrying.

The Rutgers researchers also found a connection between prevalence of police officers and higher youth gun carrying rates, according to the study. They said it might be due to increased police presence in larger urban areas, which tend to have higher rates of youth weapon carrying, or due to safety concerns increasing both police presence and youth gun carrying.

Gunn said their findings help inform the ongoing gun law debate by providing evidence that gun laws play a significant role in whether youth decide to carry firearms, regardless of other state-level factors.

The effects of gun laws regulating access to firearms for adults trickle down to adolescents as well, said co-author Paul Boxer, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Rutgers—Newark.

“Although our goal was not to jump into the debate over gun laws, I think that these findings show that the net effect of more restrictive gun laws could be quite broad, potentially reducing the carrying and use of firearms among youth,” he said. “It would be up to the policymakers to decide how our findings could be utilized.”

Join our newsletterSubscribe