May 20, 1996 in Nation/World

Teen Poll: Easy To Get Folks’ Guns Most Teens Also Believe They Can Fire Gun, Even If They Never Have, Ywca Survey Shows

Philadelphia Inquirer

The easiest place for children to find guns is not on the mean streets, but in the cozy confines of home.

And even if the weapons are hidden away and locked, most teenagers say they could get that handgun or rifle without their parents’ knowledge.

Not surprisingly, parents disagree with the younger generation - most adults say that the in-the-home weapons are secure.

Girls are less comfortable than boys with the idea of weapons in the home; also, they are less often trained to use a weapon than boys.

And three in five of all teens who live in a home where there is a weapon believe they could safely fire that rifle or handgun - whether or not they ever have been taught to shoot.

Those are some of the findings in “Families Taking Action - A National YWCA Survey About Making Homes and Communities Safer,” a poll conducted in March and April by Louis Harris & Associates Inc. and released today. Approximately 1,900 adults and teenagers took part in the survey.

Among its findings:

An estimated 10 million seventh- to 12th-graders say they could get to the weapons in their homes without their parents’ knowledge.

Despite statistics to the contrary, adults and teens with guns in the home believe the weapons make them safer.

A majority of adults and teenagers say they would involve themselves in community efforts to curtail violence and improve race relations.

Many teens, however, do not believe their parents would participate in such community efforts.

“The findings are fascinating,” says Prema MathaiDavis, national executive director of the YWCA. “Ten million young people have access to guns! Parents don’t know that number. And that parents feel guns make them safer. The perception and the reality are so different.”

Paul Fink, a professor of psychiatry at Temple University and an expert on youth violence, was not familiar with the Harris Survey but said its findings ring true.

Youths’ access to guns in the home, the belief that guns are likely to protect and the feeling of weapons proficiency are “absolutely true,” he said.

“Kids watch television, so they think they can use guns,” Fink said. “It is a common belief in this country that a gun will save your life, but research shows just the opposite. Guns in the house make it easier to kill someone you love when you are angry.

“We used to fight and go home. Now we go home and get a gun.”

The poll cites a National Center for Health Statistics study published this year that shows firearms accounted for 5,571 deaths of Americans between the ages of 10 and 19 in 1993 and that deaths due to firearms were increasing for that age group faster than for any other.

But Tom Wyld, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Va., said that self-defense with firearms cannot be measured with body counts because “the majority of self-defense uses of a firearm do not include injury or death.” He said that “self-defense often occurred” by simply showing a weapon.

He also said that in the “law-abiding gun culture, when young people get of a certain age and show signs of being responsible, adult gun owners show them safe firearms handling.”

According to the poll, which involved 1,004 middle- and high-school students and 903 adults, 53 percent of all adults said someone kept a handgun or rifle in the house when they were growing up. Three of four adults who keep a handgun or rifle in the home grew up with a weapon in the house.

More than half of all teens who live in a home with a weapon believe they could get that weapon without their parents’ knowledge, but just one in three parents agrees.

The poll found that about 39 million households - 41 percent of the national total - have a weapon in them. The No. 1 reason for having a weapon is hunting or recreation; No. 2 is “protection from criminals.”

But if the question is changed from “handgun or rifle” to just “handgun,” protection from criminals becomes the primary reason.

The choice of guns in the house is made most often by men. Fathers make the choice six times as often as mothers.

Sixty-three percent of teenagers polled agree with having a weapon in the home, but only 45 percent of girls approve the decision.

On community issues, two-thirds of all teenagers “are interested in volunteering for a day” in a shelter for abused or neglected children and 56 percent “are interested” in community gatherings that bring together people of different racial and economic backgrounds.

Adults also are interested in those sorts of community activities, but in many cases, “teens do not know or do not believe that their parents would want to participate.”

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