Research Reports

“We Carry Guns to Stay Safe”: A New Study


Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American boys and men ages 15-34 in Chicago, and the easy availability of guns is a major contributing factor. But there are other issues that influence the decisions young adults make about why and when they might carry guns. To stem the tide of gun violence in Chicago, community leaders and policy makers need more insight into why young adults carry guns, along with what might deter them from doing so. The Urban Institute study released October 4, funded by the Joyce Foundation, offers a few clues directly from young adults living in four neighborhoods with high rates of gun violence.

A key takeaway from the survey: the relationship between the decision to carry a gun and the experience of being or knowing a violent crime victim -- along with lack of trust in police to protect their neighborhoods.

“Young people who have carried guns are less likely to believe that those who carry and use guns will be caught and more likely to believe that police often stop them for no good reason. This suggests a vicious cycle is occurring: a significant number of young people who have personal and vicarious victimization experiences do not trust the police to keep their neighborhoods safe, believe they need to carry guns to protect themselves and their friends and family, and perceive the risk for getting caught for carrying or shooting as low.”

Click here for the full survey report.

Sharing the Survey with the Community

Joyce teamed up with Chicago’s City Bureau for official release of the Urban Institute study on October 4, and it turned out to be an exciting and productive partnership.

City Bureau describes itself as “a nonprofit civic journalism lab based on the city’s South Side that brings journalists and communities together in a collaborative spirit to produce media that is impactful, equitable and responsive to the public.” A key goal is to develop the reporting skills of talented young people of color, so that traditional and non-traditional media alike do a better job of reporting about communities on Chicago’s South and West Sides.

City Bureau’s weekly Public Newsroom workshop typically draws an audience of young, diverse Chicagoans committed to learn more about critical issues affecting their city and their lives – issues like gun violence.

City Bureau’s Facebook invitation to “Public Newsroom #81” explained its interest in presenting the Urban Institute survey: “Reporting on gun violence is often about youth or young adults, but rarely does it center their voices and perspectives. But what strategies could emerge if we surveyed the oft-misrepresented youth and young adults themselves? How could hearing from and working with youth and young adults contribute to community-led strategies to reduce shootings and get more guns off the street?”

Drawn by the Facebook post, word of mouth or a Chicago Sun-Times story that ran earlier in the day, an audience of roughly 45 filled Build Coffeehouse at 6100 South Blackstone Avenue to hear a presentation from Urban Institute researchers Jocelyn Fontaine and Nancy LaVigne and a panel discussion with several Chicago community organizations that helped conduct the survey, and that support young adults seen as at risk of being perpetrators or victims of gun violence.

A common theme of the panelists was the depth of the issues surrounding gun violence, going well beyond the law enforcement and justice system reforms that are needed. Among recommendations of the panelists:

  • There must be immediate intervention for young people hurting emotionally and perhaps intending to seek revenge
  • Young adults generally don’t seek out a lifestyle of crime and guns, and are not “walking around with guns because they’re crazy and out of control.” Those who get involved in gangs are trying to fill basic needs – a home, food, affirmation as a person. The young adults surveyed by the Urban Institute – those who have carried guns and those who have not -- said the best strategy for reducing violence is getting a job – a sentiment echoed by the panelists.

The event ended with a presentation of recommendations from event participants about how to get guns off the street and reduce shootings – and the responses reflected a belief that we all have roles to play. Common themes were jobs, safe and affordable housing, more career readiness programs in Chicago Public Schools, meeting basic needs of young adults, mentoring, understanding how policy can change circumstances on the ground, holistic approaches that take care of parents as well as the young adults who may be struggling, mentorships, “showing up” for friends or acquaintances who need help, and finally, “reclaiming our truth.”

More information about City Bureau and its Public Newsroom programming can be found here.

Chicago Sun-Times

This is an excerpt from an article originally published on October 4, 2018.

A new study tries to shed light on why some young people choose to carry guns in four neighborhoods on the South and West sides.

For the study titled “We Carry Guns to Stay Safe,” 345 people, age 18 to 26, were surveyed in the North Lawndale, Auburn Gresham, Englewood and Austin neighborhoods – areas with lots of shootings. A third of them said they carry a gun for protection.

“What is a really interesting finding is the nexus between gun carrying and victimization,” said Jocelyn Fontaine, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of the study.

In addition to one in three saying they carry a gun, the survey also found that of those who carry a gun, more than one-third also reported being shot — or shot at — recently. That’s about 11 percent of everyone surveyed.

The Urban Institute conducted the study with funding from the Joyce Foundation.

Click here to read the full article.

The Trace

This is an excerpt from an article originally published on October 5, 2018.

At-risk young adults in Chicago are distrustful of police and believe a gun is necessary for protection, according to new research. The study, released on October 4, adds to the growing understanding of the city’s illegal gun market and underscores how the Police Department’s failure to solve the vast majority of shootings has reinforced perceptions of impunity.

The study, titled “We Carry Guns to Stay Safe,” is based on a survey of 345 men and women between the ages of 18 and 26 who live in high-violence neighborhoods on the South and West Sides of the city. Researchers working for the Urban Institute and the Joyce Foundation found that about a third of all respondents, and half of all men surveyed, had carried guns at some point in their lives. (The Joyce Foundation provides funding to The Trace.) They almost always did so unlawfully and were driven by the same self-defense concerns fueling legal firearm ownership around the country.

Click here to read the full article.

About The Joyce Foundation

Joyce is a nonpartisan, private foundation that invests in evidence-informed public policies and strategies to advance racial equity and economic mobility for the next generation in the Great Lakes region.

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