How do guns wind up in the hands of teenagers?
In a recent editorial published in the Delaware County Daily Times, journalist Rick Kauffman raised an important question: “Where are the guns coming from?” Specifically, where are the guns coming from and how do they wind up in the hands of teenagers? This year CeaseFirePA and the Stoneleigh Foundation have teamed up to ask (and answer) the same questions in Philadelphia.
Last Spring, CeaseFirePA and the Stoneleigh Foundation selected me, Abigail Thibeault, to lead a project intended to develop strategies to prevent youth from accessing illegal firearms in Philadelphia. To disrupt those channels and fight the influx of illegal firearms into our communities, we need to identify the sources of those illegal firearms. As a Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow I have partnered with communities and law enforcement to figure out exactly where the firearms are coming from.
Law enforcement can play a big role in identifying the sources of illegal firearms by carefully tracking their paths. That is why I was pleased to read that Chester Police Chief James Nolan’s department is working extra hard to track where guns used by youth came from. Admittedly, limited resources make it difficult for police to spend the time it takes to track illegally purchased firearms. This year I am analyzing data from the Philadelphia Police and District Attorney’s Office to figure out how law enforcement can track illegally purchased firearms more easily. If we can make it more difficult for youth, like the 16-year-old boy who is the subject of Kauffman’s editorial, to get a firearm, we can make our neighborhoods safer, and we can improve outcomes for youth. (That includes would-be victims and would-be perpetrators.)
To gain a better understanding of the accessibility of guns in communities I am conducting focus groups and interviews with youth ages 14-24 living in the 22nd Police District in Philadelphia. The 22nd Police District has among the highest rates of persistent violence and poverty in the city. I hope these conversations will help parents, communities, law enforcement, and the public understand ways that we can partner to make it more difficult for youth to access illegal firearms, so that they may have the childhood and adulthood they deserve.