While that allowance does not apply to minors, McCourt said it’s possible that such policy changes and changing norms around gun carriage could affect teens’ behavior.
Regardless of the causes, he said, “this age group should not have access to handguns.”
And for parents who own guns, McCourt said the findings underscore the importance of secure storage. That means locking away firearms, unloaded and separate from ammunition.
The study, published April 26 in Pediatrics, involved over 297,000 U.S. teenagers who were surveyed between 2002 and 2019.
Among white kids, the rate of handgun carriage rose from 3.1% to 5.3% over time. In contrast, it fell from 4% to 3.2% among Black teens, and from 6.8% to 4.4% among Native Americans.
Clear differences emerged along income lines, as well — with kids from the wealthiest families showing a near-doubling in the rate of handgun carriage. Among those teens, from households making over $75,000 a year, the carriage rate rose from 2.6% to 5.1%.
The picture was different for kids from families with incomes of less than $20,000, whose gun carriage rate dipped from 4.3% to 3.7%.
Finally, there was an urban-rural divide that existed throughout the study period, but grew over time: By 2019, almost 7% of kids in rural areas said they’d carried a handgun, versus 3.8% of those in big cities.
Few teens regularly carried a gun. About 0.5% said they’d done it 10 or more times in the past year, Carey said.
“But any gun carriage among adolescents is concerning,” she stressed. “We’re worried about three things: accidents, homicide and suicide.”
Dr. Patrick Carter, an emergency physician not involved in the study, noted that those worries are well-founded: The latest federal figures show that in 2020, firearms became the leading cause of death among U.S. kids — surpassing traffic accidents, which had long topped the list.
That trend makes the increase in firearm carriage particularly troubling, said Carter, who co-directs the University of Michigan Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention.