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This study explores the changing prevalence of adolescent handgun carriage, with attention to differences across sociodemographic groups.


Data were drawn from repeated cross-sectional, nationally representative surveys conducted annually from 2002 to 2019, the National Survey on Drug Use & Health. The study sample included adolescents aged 12 to 17 (N = 297 055). Logistic regression models estimated the prevalence of past year handgun carriage across cohort and sociodemographic subgroups. Interactions between 4-time cohorts and other variables explored sociodemographic variability in prevalence rates over time.


Handgun carriage increased significantly, particularly among rural, White, and higher-income adolescents. Carriage increased by 41% over cohorts, with predicted prevalence rates increasing from 3.3% in 2002–2006 to 4.6% in 2015–2019. Across cohorts, rural (5.1%), American Indian/Alaskan Native (5.2%), lower-income (<$20 000; 3.9%), male (5.9%), and older (16–17 years old; 4.5%) adolescents were the most likely to report carriage. However, these patterns changed significantly over time, with White and higher-income adolescents (>$75 000) most likely to carry in the most recent cohorts. Predicted carriage rates increased from 3.1% to 5.3% among White adolescents, from 2.6% to 5.1% among higher-income adolescents, and from 4.3% to 6.9% among rural adolescents between the 2002–2006 and 2015–2019 cohorts. Carriage among Black, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and lower-income adolescents decreased.


Adolescent handgun carriage is increasing, concentrated among particular subgroups of youth, and carriage patterns across sociodemographic groups have changed over time. Programs to address the risk of adolescent gun carriage should be tailored to the specific sociocultural and place-based concerns of diverse adolescents.

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