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Youths Have Easy Access to Guns, Alcohol

Youths Have Easy Access to Guns, Alcohol

WebMD Health News

Sept. 16, 2002 -- Many American youths don't have to look far to find easy access to alcohol and guns. In fact, they don't have to look any further than their parents' liquor or gun cabinet. A new study shows about one in four adolescents has ready access to a gun or alcohol at home. And you might be surprised about who the teens are.

Misuse of alcohol and guns is a major contributor to the leading causes of death among young people, such as unintentional injuries, murder, and suicide. For example, more than a third of motor vehicle crashes among youth ages 15-20 in 1999 were attributed to alcohol. Researchers also say it's well known that most murders and suicides among young people involve firearms.

The study appears in the current issue of the journal Injury Prevention and is based on information from a nationwide 1995 survey of 18,500 youths aged 12 to 18.

Researchers found about 29% of adolescents reported having easy access to alcohol at home. And about 24% said they had ready access to a gun, with shotguns and rifles being the most commonly reported firearm available. About 2 million youths (10%) reported that they had access to both alcohol and guns at home.

Of particular interest, the study found that adolescents who were white, living with both parents, not receiving welfare, and had mothers who are highly educated were more likely to report having access to guns or alcohol.

Researchers say that finding reflects the characteristics of adults who are likely to use alcohol or own guns. Given the risks associated with alcohol and gun misuse among young people, study researcher Monica Swahn, PhD, MPH, of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC, and colleagues say that prevention efforts should be targeted at white, middle-class families, who are not traditionally considered at high risk.

According to the researchers, those efforts should include media campaigns about safe gun storage and the risks associated with the misuse of guns and alcohol among youths.

"Raising public awareness of these issues, and making parents discuss them, will be necessary in order to increase safe storage practices of alcohol and guns," conclude the researchers.

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