University of Washington School of Public Health

UW SPH News: Increased Gun Violence Risk among Bullied Students

Increased Gun Violence Risk among Bullied Students

07/03/2017
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School-age adolescents who experience bullying are three times more likely to report access to a loaded gun, according to a new study from the University of Washington School of Public Health.

That could increase their chances of being involved in gun violence, already a leading cause of death and injury among teenagers in the United States, researchers say.

“This study looked at two risk factors that can occur within the same time period: bullying and gun access,” said lead author Maayan Simckes, a PhD student in the School’s Department of Epidemiology. “One doesn’t necessarily cause the other, but when these two are both present, adolescents could be especially vulnerable to hurting themselves or others.”

Simckes analyzed data collected from more than 10,000 students aged 12 through 18 years, who responded to the 2011 and 2013 School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey. The SCS portion of the national survey is conducted every other year. Its questions are designed to ask students about their experiences and perceptions of their school environment, including bullying, school security, adult involvement, exposure and access to weapons and illicit substances, and presence of gangs. The results were published online June 24 in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

When looking strictly at adolescent students who reported being bullied, Simckes found that they were three times more likely to report access to a loaded gun than their non-bullied peers. A closer look at these results revealed that those who experienced traditional bullying (e.g., verbal, physical) were two times more likely to report access to a loaded gun without adult permission. Students who experienced cyberbullying (e.g. email, SMS, social media) were almost three times more likely, and students who experienced both types of bullying were six times more likely.

“The strength of the association between reporting bullying and gun access is alarming,” said Simckes. “We’re not sure why bullied students are more likely to report access to guns, but we now know the risk is there and it is high. To answer this important question, researchers will need to conduct further studies.”

Both school-based bullying and gun access can be measured and targeted by interventions to lower the risk of gun-related injuries and crimes. By studying the overlap of these two risk factors, researchers like Simckes hope to better understand how the risks can be communicated to parents of bullied children to reduce unsupervised access to guns.

Researchers from the University of Colorado, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the UW School of Public Health co-authored this research with Simckes. SPH affiliated collaborators include Megan Moreno, adjunct associate professor of health services and associate professor of pediatrics at the UW and researcher at Seattle Children’s Research Institute; Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, assistant professor of epidemiology and adjunct assistant professor of pediatrics at the UW; and Frederick Rivara, adjunct professor of epidemiology and professor of pediatrics at the UW.