Individual-Level Factors

Individual behaviors and susceptibilities are associated with firearm violence and injury. In general, “impulsivity, low educational attainment, substance use, and prior history of aggression and abuse are considered” (WHO, 2002, p. 13) risk factors for violence, for both victims and perpetrators. Substance use, especially alcohol use, and isolation are risk factors for firearm violence (WHO, 2002). Suicide is associated with living alone, substance use, depressive symptoms (Kung et al., 2003), unemployment (Reeves et al., 2012), recent military active duty status (Gibbons et al., 2012), acute crises, and relationship problems (Kaplan et al., 2009).

Certain behaviors and characteristics associated with adolescence are also positively correlated with increased risk for firearm violence. Youth firearm ownership is associated with antisocial behavior (such as bullying, theft, vandalism, violence, substance abuse, and school misbehavior) (Cunningham et al., 2000). Studies have shown that weapon carrying among youth is closely related to having been victimized or having witnessed violence and having high levels of aggression (Fitzpatrick, 1997; Webster et al., 1993). There is also evidence that youth who carry guns may do so because they feel vulnerable to victimization (Simon et al., 1997), although other studies have found gun carrying to be a component of highly aggressive delinquency (Webster et al., 1993).

Risk factors for unintentional firearm-related fatalities include carelessness; reckless activities (e.g., playing with guns); ignorance (“I didn’t know the gun was loaded”); a prior history of traffic citations, drunk driving, and arrests (Kleck, 1991); and alcohol and drug use (Ruddell and Mays, 2004). Research on victims of penetrating injury has found 5-year reinjury rates as high as 44 percent, with a 20 percent overall mortality rate (Sims et al., 1989). In addition, the risk of future gun carrying (Champion and DuRant, 2001; Spano et al., 2012) and future violence is associated with exposure to violence in general (Ehrensaft et al., 2003; Finkelhor et al., 2009; Spano et al., 2010) and firearm-related violence in particular (Bingenheimer et al., 2005; Slovak and Singer, 2001). Indirect exposure to violence, such as living in a particularly violent neighborhood, is also associated with individual behavioral health risk factors for violence, including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can lead to interpersonal or self-inflicted gun violence (Buka et al., 2001; Sharkey et al., 2012).

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