School-age adolescents who experience bullying are three times more likely to report access to a loaded gun, according to a new study from the University of Washington.
That could increase their chances of being involved in gun violence, already a leading cause of death and injury among teenagers in the United States, the researchers said. The results were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
“This study looked at two risk factors that can occur within the same time period: bullying and gun access,” said lead author Maayan Simckes, a Ph.D. student at the School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. “One doesn’t necessarily cause the other, but when these two are both present, adolescents could be especially vulnerable to hurting themselves or others.”
Simckes and colleagues analyzed data collected from more than 10,000 students ages 12 through 18 who had responded to the 2011 and 2013 School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey. The SCS portion of the national survey is conducted biannually. It asks students about their school environment, including bullying, security, adult involvement, exposure and access to weapons and illicit substances, and gang presence.
Simckes found that adolescent students who reported being bullied were three times more likely to report access to a loaded gun than their non-bullied peers. A closer look at these results revealed that those who experienced verbal or physical bullying were twice as likely to report access to a loaded gun without adult permission. Students who experienced cyberbullying (e.g. email, text, social media) were almost three times more likely, and students who experienced both types of bullying were six times more likely to have access to a loaded gun.
“The survey reaches a nationally representative sample of youth, which means that the results of this study can be interpreted at a national level,” Simckes said. “We’ve identified a high-risk population of adolescents.”
Thousands of adolescents are hurt or killed each year from gun-related injuries, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2015, 9,297 teenagers sustained non-fatal gun-related injuries and 1,881 sustained fatal injuries. However, context is key for these statistics. There are many reasons why students could be involved in a gun-related injury or death, researchers say, including gang presence at school, mishandling a gun at home, or suicide.
“The strength of the association between reporting bullying and gun access is alarming,” said Simckes. “We’re not sure why bullied students are more likely to report access to guns, but we now know the risk is there and it is high.”
School-based bullying and gun access can be targeted by interventions, both at home and school, to lower the risk of injuries and crimes. By studying the overlap of these two risk factors, researchers like Simckes hope to better understand how the risks can be communicated to parents of bullied children to reduce unsupervised access to guns.
“This research can also better support teachers and administrators in identifying bullied students and communicating with them and their families about preventing violence victimization and perpetration. Thankfully, knowing who the most vulnerable students are allows us to do more to help them,” she said.
Study co-authors included researchers from the UW School of Public Health, the University of Colorado, Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Center, Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and staff at U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Source: University of Washington