Teens say guns make neighborhoods less safe, but they still want one, study finds

Many of the teens who took part in the study said they don’t feel safe hanging out in their local parks or walking home from school.

For Black and Latino teenagers who live around constant gun violence, safety is always on their minds, yet that concern sometimes leads them to think they need a gun to survive. 

That’s what a new report published by Project Unloaded, a gun violence prevention nonprofit, shows. The goal was to get a more comprehensive perspective from Black and Latino teenagers who live in areas that have high rates of gun violence.

The study was done over the summer by Ahzul, a multicultural research firm that conducted a survey of about 500 participants ages 13 to 17. Many of the teens who took part said they don’t feel safe hanging out in their local parks or walking home from school. 

“Through a series of individual and small group online and in-person interviews, we talked to teens in neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Chicago, Sacramento, and other urban areas with the highest rates of gun violence,” the report says. “Gun violence is impacting most aspects of their lives, in ways large and small.”

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Signs against gun violence are placed at a memorial for the victims of a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade, on July 6, 2022, in Highland Park, Illinois. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)

According to the study, Black teens are more likely to have experienced gun violence. It states that 43% of the Black participants reported hearing stories from friends and family about gun violence, 30% lost a family member to gun violence, and 28% had a family member who was injured by a gun. 

There was a level of conflict in the surveyed teens’ views as well. Many of them felt they needed a gun to protect themselves but most of them also said their neighborhoods would be safer if fewer people had guns. Nearly half of the teens said they believe having a gun makes them safer. 

Many of the teens also didn’t know much about gun risks, though they were open to learning more. In addition, 88% of them said they’d done little to no research on risk factors around gun ownership. 

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The research is part of Project Unloaded’s larger push, called “Guns Change the Story,” to help change the narrative around gun safety. It concluded that “fact-based education” can change teenagers’ views on gun ownership and risks. 

While gun violence remains a concern in urban areas across the country, some of the data from the end of 2023 was encouraging. Gun deaths decreased for the second straight year with 18,761 (excluding suicides) compared with 20,389 in 2022. The U.S. saw a 12.9% decrease in homicides in 2023 compared with 2022. It could end up being the largest national decline in homicides on record. 

But even as numbers go down, the burden of gun deaths weighs heavily on communities of color, especially Black ones. That includes teenagers like the ones who participated in the study who simply want to be safe.

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