MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 1998202/307-0703


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Twenty-nine percent of high school males surveyed possessed at least one firearm and 6 percent had carried a gun outside the home, according to a report released today by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Fifty percent of the males surveyed thought that they could obtain guns with relative ease. The report's findings were announced today by Attorney General Janet Reno at a conference sponsored by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC).

"This report provides us with clear evidence that it is simply too easy for our nation's children to obtain a firearm," said Attorney General Janet Reno. "We need to do more to educate children on the dangers of guns, as well as the consequences resulting from improper use of firearms."

The study examined the extent to which a national sample of male high school sophomores and juniors was involved in or affected by gun-related activity. Data were gathered from a survey mailed to 10th and 11th graders from 53 high schools nationwide. The survey requested information on their firearm- and crime-related activities for the previous 12 months.

In addition, the questionnaire requested social, demographic and personal information from respondents and their exposure to weapons. The number of respondents carrying or possessing a gun was relatively low compared with previous studies, which looked at troubled youths.

"This research helps fill the gap about our knowledge regarding firearms and 'average' youth," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. "This fundamental information about youth gun access and attitudes toward gun possession is a critical step toward understanding how to reduce youth gun violence."

The study's findings revealed that gun possession levels were highest for firearms used for recreational purposes, such as hunting and sporting--2 in 10 surveyed used rifles and shotguns, 1 in 10 possessed revolvers, 1 in 25 preferred automatic or semiautomatic handguns, and only 1 in 50 used sawed-off shotguns. Gun possession and carrying levels among the age group surveyed were highest in smaller, rural communities.

Family members or friends were the primary sources of guns. Few respondents, however, had asked someone to buy a gun for them. Some 43 percent of the respondents reported that the main reason reported for carrying or possessing a firearm was protection, not criminal activity or status enhancement. Ten percent of juveniles reported that they carried weapons to gain respect from their peers as a form of status enhancement.

While a majority of school officials who participated in the survey recalled incidents involving firearms on school property within the past three years, only two percent considered guns a serious problem on school grounds. Most schools have taken steps in recent years to implement violence-limiting measures.

This study was conducted in 1996 by Joseph F. Sheley, Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies, California State University in Sacramento, and James D. Wright, Professor of Human Relations, Department of Sociology, Tulane University.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the Department of Justice, is the primary sponsor of criminal justice research and evaluations of programs to reduce crime. For additional information about NIJ, the Internet address is

General information about the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is available at

The report is available on the Internet at, or from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS) by calling toll-free, 1-800/851-3420.

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NIJ 99-004

After hours contact: James Phillips at 888/491-4487 (pager)