MONDAY, Sept. 21, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Teenagers may be less likely to tote firearms if they live in a state with strong gun control laws, a new study says.
Researchers graded each state's gun control laws on a scale of zero to 100 and compared that score against data from a federal survey that asked kids whether they had carried a gun around at least once during the previous month.
For each 10-point increase in the state's gun law score, there was a 9 percent decrease in the odds that a teen would report carrying a gun, the study said.
"By reducing the availability of guns, potentially you can have a substantial impact on public safety," said lead author Ziming Xuan, an assistant professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.
This relationship appears to hinge on adult gun ownership, the researchers found. If restrictive gun laws lower the rate of adult gun ownership, then teens are less likely to have guns to carry around, according to their findings.
Bindu Kalesan, an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, said that this study is "basically saying, adult gun ownership is the real problem." She was not involved with the research.
However, this study only showed an association between gun control laws and the odds of teens carrying firearms. It did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The study was published Sept. 21 in JAMA Pediatrics.
Each year, an average of 15,000 teenagers die in the United States, according to background information in the study. The three leading causes of death among teenagers were unintentional injuries, homicide and suicide, the study said.
Firearms played a role in 83 percent of youth homicides, and about half of suicides involved a gun, Xuan said.
In their study, the researchers graded states on their gun laws using an annual scorecard released by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The scorecards consider efforts to curb firearm trafficking, strengthen background checks, ensure child safety, ban military-style assault weapons, and restrict guns in public places.
The study authors found substantial variation in state-level gun law scores with average scores ranging from a low of 1.3 in Utah to a high of 79.7 in California.
Researchers then pulled data from the federal Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which regularly asked kids whether they had carried a gun on at least one day during the 30 days prior to the survey.
The study authors found that gun laws had a direct effect on the chance that a teen would carry a firearm. In addition, there was a significant association between adult gun ownership and the odds of a teen carrying a firearm.
However, the researchers found that when they factored in adult gun ownership, the association vanished between gun laws and the likelihood of a teenager carrying a gun.
"It's very likely explained by the fact that the youth are getting their guns from adults," Xuan said. "If a state with strong gun control is able to reduce the amount of adult gun ownership, it will reduce the number of kids carrying guns."
The study provides powerful evidence that a state's gun control laws can have an impact on the behavior of kids, said Sam Bieler, a research associate with the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C.
"The tendency of youth to carry firearms is related to the legal environment they're growing up in," said Bieler, who was not involved with the study. "This is something that states should be keeping in mind as they consider their gun control laws."
For more information on firearms and child safety, visit the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health.