CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago high school students were far more likely to report carrying a firearm in recent years than their peers in New York and Los Angeles, a probable factor in Chicago’s 2016-17 spike in gun violence, a study showed on Thursday.
The prevalence of self-reported gun possession by high school freshmen and sophomores in Chicago averaged 9 percent between 2007 and 2013, compared with 6 percent in Los Angeles and 4 percent in New York, according to data from Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
During that period, the percentage of surveyed students who reported having carried a gun was generally on the rise in Chicago, while dropping sharply in Los Angeles and remaining mostly flat in New York City.
The study also found a strong correlation between trends of self-reported student firearm possession and how safe the students said they felt in each of the three largest U.S. cities.
Specifically, students in Chicago reported being exposed to a higher level of risk factors for violence, such as bullying, schoolyard fights, drug abuse and even general feelings of despair, the study said.
“Kids in Chicago are experiencing multiple layers of violence and fear of violence in school on a daily basis,” said study co-author Dr. Karen Sheehan, a professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Feinberg.
Researchers cited such factors as entrenched poverty and unemployment, particularly in communities that remain highly segregated by race and ethnicity, as issues contributing to a climate of fear and violence.
The researchers also said the findings likely help explain a jump in the number of shootings in Chicago during 2016 and 2017, a spike that occurred mostly among teens and young adults.
Based on an anonymous, voluntary survey of more than 50,000 public high school students from the three U.S. cities, the report focused on freshmen and sophomores – aged 14 to 16 – because of the significant drop-out rates among older students.
The study, published earlier this month in the journal Injury Epidemiology, cited data showing that homicide is the second-leading cause of death among youth aged 10 to 19, with gun-related homicides the most common.
In 2016 alone, Chicago documented 762 homicides, up 57 percent from the year before and exceeding Los Angeles and New York City combined. In general, the rates of homicides among African-Americans and Hispanics were notably higher than for whites, according to the report.
(Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Matthew Lewis)