Our study of more than 100 young gun-carriers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn identifies fear—for their own lives and for their loved ones—as the overwhelming factor behind their decision to carry. In-depth interviews were conducted by researchers with personal connections to the young people’s social networks, opening up levels of trust and honesty rarely found in prior research.
Predominantly young Black men, ages 15 to 24, these gun-carriers talked about experiencing, witnessing, and being threatened with violence at shocking rates. Very few had access to long-term, stable jobs, with most relying on the underground economy to make ends meet. Afraid and distrustful of police, and with few other means to ensure their safety, many young people turned to gun-carrying for self-preservation. For most youth, fear for their own lives and the lives of their families outweighed concerns about going to jail.
The study identifies four types of young gun-carriers in Brooklyn:
- Those who carry for protection due to generalized fear, and are ambivalent about using guns
- Those who carry for image, to intimidate or impress others
- Those who carry defensively as part of street hustles that expose them to danger
- Shooters, who are willing to go on the offensive
These findings highlight the need to meet young gun-carriers where they are, recognizing gangs, crews, and street networks as the main sources of identity, loyalty, and decision-making for many young people. Our recommendations point the way towards a collaborative approach to safety—one that offers an alternative to law enforcement, creates spaces for healing, and respects young gun-carriers’ allegiance to their street networks.
This research was funded by the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research. The opinions, findings, and recommendations contained in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of that collaborative.