Nearly a third of young people say they have experienced gun violence personally, and more than half say they think about mass shootings at least once a week, according to a new survey published on September 28.
The survey, published by Project Unloaded, a nonprofit organization that seeks to approach gun violence prevention through narrative and cultural change with teens and young adults, also found that while fear of gun violence is substantial, most young people feel that guns are a source of protection. But when presented with facts that show that having a gun actually increases the risk of death or injury, young people shifted their opinion by an average of 17 percentage points.
Among some demographic groups, including people between the ages of 13 and 17, a majority of respondents said that guns made them less safe after receiving information about the risks of firearm ownership.
“The data tells that there is a lot of opportunity to reach young people and to communicate with them about gun violence in a way that is frankly different from what they are currently hearing,” said Nina Vinik, the founder and director of Project Unloaded.
Vinik noted that the inspiration for the survey came from wanting to understand the younger generation’s relationship with and perception of gun violence and safety and its effect on their daily lives.
The survey was conducted by the Global Strategy Group, which polled 1,000 people aged 13-25 nationwide between July 19 and 26.
The survey found that younger people of color particularly have more experience with gun violence: 60 percent of Black and Latino respondents reported having some personal experience, compared with 30 percent of all respondents. More than 70 percent of Black respondents said that gun violence is an issue where they live, 20 percentage points higher than all respondents.
Shootings, including those affecting children, have increased dramatically since the start of the pandemic. As The Trace has reported, 48,832 people were killed with guns in 2021, an all-time high. Among these deaths, people of color were disproportionately represented as homicide victims, while youth suicide has steadily increased particularly among children of color.
School shootings and mass shootings prove to be significant concerns for respondents. Half said they worry about school shootings weekly. Young people of color are more likely to be concerned about their safety at school, with just 26 percent of Black and 30 percent of Latino youth feeling very safe at school, compared to 39 percent of white students.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2018 found similar results regarding school shootings, with 57 percent of teens saying they were concerned about the possibility of a shooting occurring at their schools. Last school year saw the highest number of school shootings in two decades, according to a federal report published this year.
“The statistics themselves did not seem super shocking to me,” said Karly Scholz, 19, a member of Project Unloaded’s youth council. “Gun violence is so present in our schools and our day-to-day lives.”
Young people are also more likely to acknowledge that gun suicide is a major concern. Sixty-four percent of young people across all demographics said that gun suicide is a major concern, compared to 53 percent of the adult voting population. Mental health, in general, is also a huge concern for the younger generation with 53 percent saying it is a major issue.
Vinik said the motivation for Project Unloaded, which was founded in 2021, came from the shifting perception of guns and their correlation to safety among young people.
“The point of view of Project Unloaded is that changing gun culture really does have to start with young people,” Vinik said. “This is research that really supports our theory of change.”