As of 2015, nearly one in four high school males reported carrying weapons (such as a gun, knife, or club) on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.
Weapon-carrying among adolescents is associated with an increased risk, within a 12-month period, of injuries requiring medical treatment, repeat/multiple injuries, and injuries requiring hospitalization. Nonfatal injuries associated with firearms, in particular, occurred among 15- to 19-year-olds at a rate of 55 per 100,000. Firearm injuries were the sixth leading cause of unintentional death among 15- to 19-year-olds in 2014.
Homicide is the third leading cause of death for teens ages 15 to 19, and the leading cause of intentional/violence-related deaths for this age group. The rate of intentional death involving firearms was 8 per 100,000 15- to 19-year-olds in 2013. Among homicides of 15- to 19-year-olds in 2013, 85 percent were firearms-related; nine percent were due to a cut or piercing wound.
While many students report that they have carried a weapon in the past month, the proportion of high school students who report they carried a weapon at school is much smaller: only four percent in 2015.
The proportion of students reporting that they carried a weapon in the past 30 days decreased from 26 percent in 1991 to 17 percent in 1999. Since then, the percentage has not strayed far from the current figure of 16 percent (as of 2015). However, between 2013 and 2015, there was a decrease in the proportion of students carrying weapons for all tabulated race/ethnicity groups. White students remained the most likely to carry weapons during this time period, at 18 percent in 2015. (Figure 1) Among white high school students, the proportion who carried a weapon on school property decreased from six to four percent in the same period, while the rate remained unchanged for Hispanic students and black students, at five and three percent, respectively.
Differences by Gender
High school males are more than three times as likely as females to carry a weapon (24 and 8 percent, respectively, in 2015). This difference holds for all racial and ethnic subgroups, as well as at each grade level. (Figure 2) The prevalence of carrying a weapon, however, has declined significantly among both males and females (by 17 and 3 percentage points, respectively) since 1991. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
In 2015, among male high school students, whites were the most likely to carry a weapon (28 percent), followed by Hispanics (20 percent), and blacks (18 percent). Among female high school students, there were no significant racial differences. (Figure 2)
In the 1990s, black students were significantly more likely to carry weapons than were white students (33 versus 25 percent, in 1991, when the gap was greatest). Although the percentage for Hispanic students was similar to that for white students in 1991, the gap between these groups grew, reaching a peak in 1997. In that year, 23 percent of Hispanic students and 17 percent of white students had carried a weapon in the past 30 days. Since then, however, weapon-carrying among black and Hispanic students has continued to decline, while it has remained steady among white students in recent years. (Figure 1)
Differences by Grade
In 2015, there were no statistically significant differences by grade-level in the prevalence of weapon-carrying.
State and Local Estimates
2015 estimates of weapon-carrying among high school students (Grades 9-12) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS): see Table 10
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set a national goal to decrease the number of adolescents who carry weapons at school, from 5.6 percent in 2009 to 4.6 percent in 2020. To do this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages violence prevention programs for youth that focus on reducing both physical fighting at school and weapon carrying.
More information available here.
What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator
See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective at reducing suicide risk behaviors:
- Physical Fighting by Youth
- Violent Crime Victimization
- Unsafe at School
- Teen Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm Death
- Children’s Exposure to Violence
Students in grades 9-12 were asked whether they had carried a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, on one or more occasions in the 30 days preceding the survey. Estimates do not include youth who were not in school, and therefore are not representative of all youth in this age group.
Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin were not included in the 2015 survey.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 10/5/2016. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Raw Data Source
Youth Risk Behavior Survey
Appendix 1 -Percentage of High School Students1 Who Reported Carrying Weapons2: Selected Years, 1991-2015
1 Estimates do not include youth who dropped out of school and therefore may not reflect total national values. Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin were not included in the 2015 survey.
2 One or more times during the 30 days preceding the survey.
3 Race/ethnicity estimates from 1999 and later are not directly comparable to earlier years, due to federal changes in definitions. In surveys conducted in 1999 and later, respondents were allowed to select more than one race/ethnicity when selecting their racial category. Estimates presented only include respondents who selected one category when choosing their race/ethnicity.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 10/5/2016. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Pickett, W., Craig, W., Harel, Y., Cunningham, J., Simpson, K., Molcho, M., et al. (2005). Cross-national study of fighting and weapon carrying as determinants of adolescent injury. Pediatrics, 116(6), e855-e863.
Hispanics may be any race. Totals for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2016). High school students carrying weapons. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=high-school-students-carrying-weapons
Last updated: October 2016