Pandemic Stress, Gangs, and Utter Fear Fueled a Rise in Teen Shootings

by | Mar 14, 2023 | Health

Diego never imagined he’d carry a gun.

Not as a child, when shots were fired outside his Chicago-area home. Not at age 12, when one of his friends was gunned down.

Diego’s mind changed at 14, when he and his friends were getting ready to walk to midnight Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But instead of hymns, Diego heard gunfire, and then screaming. A gang member shot two people, including one of Diego’s friends, who was hit nine times.

“My friend was bleeding out,” said Diego, who asked KHN not to use his last name to protect his safety and privacy. As his friend lay on the ground, “he was choking on his own blood.”

The attack left Diego’s friend paralyzed from the waist down. And it left Diego, one of a growing number of teens who witness gun violence, traumatized and afraid to go outside without a gun.

Research shows that adolescents exposed to gun violence are twice as likely as others to perpetrate a serious violent crime within two years, perpetuating a cycle that can be hard to interrupt.

Diego asked his friends for help finding a handgun and — in a country supersaturated with firearms — they had no trouble procuring one, which they gave him free.

“I felt safer with the gun,” said Diego, now 21. “I hoped I wouldn’t use it.”

For two years, Diego kept the gun only as a deterrent. When he finally pulled the trigger, it changed his life forever.

Disturbing Trends

The news media focuses heavily on mass shootings and the mental state of the people who commit them. But there is a far larger epidemic of gun violence — particularly among Black, Hispanic, and Native American youth — ensnaring some kids not even …

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