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Researchers with the Center for Justice Innovation had been grappling with the issue of gun violence among young people long before the coronavirus pandemic, and the spike in shootings that accompanied it. In February 2020, in fact, the center began interviewing young firearm carriers in Brooklyn, New York, to better understand the root causes of youth gun violence — work that was put on hold while the country learned to live under lockdown, and resumed that September amid a historic rise in homicides and shootings that particularly affected children.

The center eventually conducted 103 interviews with gun carriers ages 15 to 24, mostly young men, and released the findings and accompanying policy recommendations this week. Researchers found that, more than anything else, the young people they surveyed chose to carry a firearm out of a fear of death — that of themselves or a loved one. The report builds on other studies exploring young people’s perceptions of guns: As The Trace reported last fall, a nationwide survey by Project Unloaded revealed Gen Zers have a substantial fear of shootings, but that they also view firearms as a source of protection. About one-third of that survey’s participants said they had experienced gun violence personally.

Organizers of the Center for Justice Innovation study told Gothamist, which first reported on the new research, that they hope the report changes prevailing narratives about youth involvement in gangs, crime, and gun violence. “It’s not about being cool or being tough,” one young gun carrier told researchers. “It’s just more about being safe.”

From Our Team

Public mass shootings are statistically rare, but they tend to capture the nation’s attention. That makes sense: They’re seemingly random, and thus seemingly impossible to prepare for. The narratives that emerge from these kinds of attacks are also frightening. The mass shootings that get the most headlines are usually the deadliest, and carried out with military-style rifles that inflict often unsurvivable injuries. 

Because of that reality, AR-15-style weapons are often at the center of gun policy debates. Several Trace readers, however, pointed out that the vast majority of shootings are perpetrated with handguns, asking: Aren’t handguns a bigger problem than long guns? For the latest Ask The Trace, senior news writer Jennifer Mascia clears up a common misconception.

Read more from The Trace →

What to Know Today

Activists in Dayton, Ohio, spent years pushing for the Police Department to cancel its contract with ShotSpotter, a controversial gunshot-detection system. Finally, late last year, the department announced that it wouldn’t extend its contract with the company, admitting that it was “challenging” to prove the technology’s efficacy. [Bolts] Context: A growing body of evidence suggests that ShotSpotter’s tech is ineffective, and activists say it leads to deadly over-policing.

By his 20s, Jessi Fernandez, at the time a member of a Los Angeles street gang, had been shot more times than he could count. After a close friend was killed near his home, Fernandez decided to change his life — a comeback that was aided by his eventual alma mater, UC Berkeley. [Los Angeles Times

Chicago’s police oversight agency is probing claims that some now-benched officers seized guns without making arrests and turned in bogus paperwork to cover their tracks. [Chicago Sun-Times

Jarrell Garris had been eating a banana and grapes inside a New York City grocery store, his family said, when police officers accused him of stealing food. Then they shot him. [USA TODAY

Why did the Justice Department choose to seek the death penalty for the man who shot and killed 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, but not for the mass shooter who killed 23 people in a Walmart in El Paso, Texas? [Associated Press

Bank of America appears on track to revive its public finance business in Texas. The bank, which doesn’t lend to companies that make assault-style weapons for nonmilitary purposes, has been absent for almost two years, since the state passed a law preventing governments from contracting with companies that “discriminate” against the firearm industry. [Bloomberg via Yahoo]

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen advanced two gun bills last week: One would entitle police to disarm anyone openly carrying a firearm without a concealed carry permit; the other would require officers to inform people they stop that they don’t have to consent to a search without a warrant and offer educational materials to those who do agree to a search. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]


Do Not Scapegoat Young People for the Increase in Gun Violence: After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence spiked significantly. Looking to score points with scared voters and stoke their atavistic instincts, some elected officials have dismissed the complex factors behind the increase in shootings in favor of demonizing young people. (June 2022)