Teenage males in poor city neighborhoods would rather risk jail time than go unarmed, says a new study reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that highlights the prevalence of gangs and firearms among young males in St. Louis. Criminologists interviewed 338 teens and 629 men doing time in the city’s juvenile and adult detention facilities. Well over half of the juveniles interviewed over a four-year period said they had possessed a gun at some point. They were driven largely by gang involvement and fear of street crime. “Particularly among young men, it is very easy to get guns, and they are very scared of the streets,” said Beth Huebner, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. She co-authored the study with Scott Decker, now at Arizona State University, and Adam Watkins, now at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Nearly half the teens who had carried a gun were aware that it was illegal to do so. They obtained them anyway because fear of crime outweighed their fear of jail time. “They know what the penalties are, but they don’t know what that means,” Huebner said. Of the juveniles who admitted possessing a gun, nearly half said they carried the guns while on the street. The majority of adults interviewed said they kept guns only in their homes.