Race, ethnicity not a factor in recent weapon-carrying behaviors at US schools

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The U of M Medical School study says a school’s social climate plays the strongest role when weapon-carrying behaviors increase

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (06/24/2021) — A study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota Medical School sheds new light on boys’ weapon-carrying behaviors at U.S. high schools. The results indicate that weapon-carrying is not tied to students’ race or ethnicity but rather their schools’ social climates.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics and led by Patricia Jewett, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Medicine at the U of M Medical School.

“Narratives of violence in the U.S. have been distorted by racist stereotyping, portraying male individuals of color as more dangerous than white males,” Jewett said. “Instead, our study suggests that school climates may be linked to an increase in weapon-carrying at schools.”

The study analyzed self-reported weapon-carrying behaviors among 88,000 young males at U.S. high schools between 1993 and 2019 based on data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. From that data, they identified four key findings:

  • Since 1993, weapon-carrying in schools has declined among all males.  

  • Over the last 20 years, in schools perceived as safer, Non-Hispanic, white males have been more likely to bring weapons into schools than Non-Hispanic Black/African American or Hispanic males.

  • Between 2017 and 2019, while comparing all schools, no significant differences in weapon-carrying behaviors existed by race or ethnicity.

  • More frequent weapon-carrying is associated with experiences of unsafety or violence at school. Males who experienced violence or felt unsafe at school brought weapons at least twice as often, and such negative school experiences were more common among males of color (8-12%) than among Non-Hispanic white males (4-5%). 

“Our work underscores the association of experiences of unsafety at school with weapon-carrying at school and highlights large knowledge gaps in the field of gun violence research in the U.S.,” Jewett said. “This is an important foundation for much needed research to disentangle the intertwined phenomena of racism, toxic environments of violence and gun- and weapon-culture in the U.S. We are currently reaching out to other researchers who work in the field to collaborate on this urgent public health topic.”

Co-authors of the study include Iris W. Borowsky, MD, PhD, with the U of M Medical School, Eunice M. Areba, PhD, with the U of M School of Nursing; Ronald E. Gangnon, PhD, and Kristen Malecki, PhD, with the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Judith Kafka, PhD, with the City University of New York.

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About the University of Minnesota Medical School
The University of Minnesota Medical School is at the forefront of learning and discovery, transforming medical care and educating the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and faculty produce high-impact biomedical research and advance the practice of medicine. We acknowledge that the U of M Medical School, both the Twin Cities campus and Duluth campus, is located on traditional, ancestral and contemporary lands of the Dakota and the Ojibwe, and scores of other Indigenous people, and we affirm our commitment to tribal communities and their sovereignty as we seek to improve and strengthen our relations with tribal nations. For more information about the U of M Medical School, please visit med.umn.edu

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Media Relations Manager
University of Minnesota Medical School
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