Study finds more rich white teens are carrying guns

Researchers from Boston College found that handgun carriage is on the rise among young people, particularly white boys from higher income households.

Kyle Rittenhouse testifying at his homicide trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Nov. 10, 2021.
Photo by Mark Hertzberg-Pool/Getty Images

Kids with guns is not just a Gorillaz song. According to a study from the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College, teenagers are carrying firearms at a much higher rate than they did just two decades ago — and the most frequent carriers are white kids from wealthier families.

Researchers look at the trend of handgun carriage among kids between the ages of 12 and 17 years old from 2002 to 2019, using data recorded by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. They found a 41% increase in overall gun carrying. Among the biggest risers: rural kids, white kids, and kids from households with an income over $75,000. (To be fair, that’s pretty firmly middle class, even though the study classifies them as “higher-income” households. But still: the more money, the stronger the likelihood of carrying a weapon.) Young men in particular were more likely to carry across these demographics.

Carrying a firearm was up nearly across the board, though there were a few categories that saw a decline. Kids from low-income families making under $20,000 per year saw a slight drop-off. Black teens also were less likely to carry, seeing a 20% drop from 4% in 2002 to 3.2% in 2019. Handgun carrying among other people of color, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Hispanic teens was slightly down or remained steady.

That leaves the white kids, who are carrying more often. The number of white teens with firearms increased from 3.1% in 2002 to 5.3% in 2019, and the number of armed teens from higher-income households nearly doubled in that same time period. Young men have the highest rate of carry, with 6.9% reporting being strapped, but women are starting to carry more often. The number of teen girls keeping a firearm on them jumped from 1.1% to 2.2% over the last two decades.

Perhaps this rise shouldn’t be surprising. Gun ownership is relatively common in the U.S., and kids are exposed to violence at much higher rates now than they used to be. In a potentially related trend: Firearm-related incidents are now the leading cause of death among children, replacing car accidents. We’re veering dangerously close to “the only thing that stops a bad teen with a gun is a good teen with a gun” territory.