Everytown for Gun Safety, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Polarization & Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL) recently came together to produce the report, U.S. Youth Attitudes on Guns. This study is a response to increased mass shootings, youth mental health, and the overall lack of research into how youth think and feel about guns.
Key findings show that 4 out of 5 young people (aged 14-30) agree that gun violence is a problem in the U.S. 59% of participants support stricter gun safety laws. 40% reported they had “somewhat easy” access to a gun, and 21% said they have “very easy” access. The ease of access to guns and the increasing amount of gunfire at schools is making young people feel less safe in public and at school than at home. Although attitudes about guns, gun ownership, and personal safety varied greatly, the study found that young people with easier access to guns had stronger beliefs that they are safer with guns than without.
As expected, political identity played a significant role in young people’s attitudes about guns. Findings show that the more strongly participants identified as Republicans, the more safe they felt in general, and the more they believed they are safer with guns. These participants report gun culture as being a part of their identity. In contrast, young people who think gun violence is a problem identified more as women, Democrats, and those who have experienced gun-related injuries and deaths. On average, each participant knew at least one person who was killed or injured by a gun.
The report also examines the impact of gun violence on mental health. Exposure to gun injury is linked to high rates of post-traumatic stress symptoms, substance use, and future injury. Between 2009-2019, high school participants’ reports of feelings of sadness and hopelessness increased by 40%. Those considering attempting suicide increased by 36%. The combination of a record number of guns being sold in recent years, along with so many young people already struggling with mental health makes this study crucial. The report delves into far-right extremism, misogyny, racial resentment, and the Second Amendment, among other topics, to further explore how youth view the country’s gun violence crisis.
“We hope these results will provide a strong foundation for researchers, public health officials, policymakers, educators, families and young people themselves to better understand youth attitudes toward guns and gun violence in an effort to help reduce gun deaths and injuries.”