Nearly one-quarter of 14 to 24-year-olds who visit urban emergency departments with assault-related injuries possess a gun, Medpage Today reported.  Many also exhibit other risks for violence in the future.

In a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, possessing a firearm was strongly associated with risky behavior – such as having recently been in a serious fight, using drugs and having an aggressive attitude.

"Future prevention efforts should focus on minimizing illegal firearm access among high-risk youth, nonviolent alternatives to retaliatory violence, and substance use prevention," the researchers said in the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers, led by Dr. Patrick Carter, analyzed 689 at-risk youths between the ages of 14 and 24 who were being treated for assault-related injuries at a Level 1 trauma center in Flint, Mich.  Twenty-three percent of those studied reported possessing a firearm within the past six months, and 83 percent of these individuals had obtained the gun illegally.

Of the group that owned guns, 42 percent reported carrying it outside the house, while 22 percent said that they owned an automatic or semiautomatic weapon.  The most common reason the participants gave for owning the gun was protection.  Around 67 percent of those in the hospital had sustained injuries from their peers, while 15 percent had injuries related to partner-related abuse.

According to Medpage Today, Factors associated with gun possession included being male, having a higher socioeconomic status, engaging in illicit drug use and exhibiting a retaliatory attitude. Race was not found to be a significant factor. Carter and his colleagues noted that some of those interviewed belonged to a gang.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Robert Sege of Boston Medical Center said much more research and federal action is needed to prevent firearm deaths among at-risk youths.

"The continued high incidence of firearms deaths in the U.S. is a national disgrace," he wrote. "Despite declining rates over the past decade, firearm injuries remain the second leading cause of death for young Americans, trailing only motor vehicle crashes."

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