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Background Checks and Adolescent Access to Guns :

December 2, 2019

How do universal background check laws impact the degree to which adolescents carry guns?

How do universal background check laws impact the degree to which adolescents carry guns? To answer this question, Timsina et al (10.1542/peds.2019-1071) evaluated serial cross-sectional data from the National Risk Behavior Surveys (YRBS), conducted biennially from 1993 to 2017, to assess the degree to which the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) was associated with reduced gun carrying.

Overall, 5.8% of teens surveyed reported carrying a gun. However, only 17% of teens who did carry guns were from states with universal background checks at the point of sale, including private firearm sales or states with permit-to-purchase licensing requirements for firearm sales. The combination of NICS and a state requiring universal background check legislation in place reduced gun carrying by 25%.

How do we interpret these findings? We invited Drs. Carter, Zeoli, and Goyal, experts in firearm mortality prevention, to share with us their thoughts in an accompanying commentary (10.1542/peds.2019-2334). They note the combination of NICS and point-of-sale universal background checks may be central in reducing access among teens to firearms, and thus potentially reducing the risk of firearm-related injury. The authors note the limitations of the study (e.g. teens with firearms may be less likely to be in high school and thus not be included in the YRBS) and that there might be more granular differences across states related to firearm carrying and the impact of legislation. The authors of this commentary call for more federally funded research in firearm injury despite limitations imposed by the Dickey amendment, which limits federal support for research that that would advocate or promote gun control. Hopefully studies like the one by Timsina et al. will take aim at the need for more targeted prevention strategies and more focused research on the unanswered questions.

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