Title: In-School Weapon Carrying: Associations with Aggression, Environmental Threat, and Social Cognitions
Name: Jenny Isaacs
(646) 645-0775
Year: 2002
Type: Dissertation Fellowship

Recent in-school shootings have given rise to a heightened concern about children carrying weapons to school. There has been a proliferation of studies evaluating the correlates of youth weapon carrying. Although these studies have provided important descriptive information about youth weapon carriers and have shed light on some of the correlates of youth weapon carrying, very few have been guided by explicit theoretical notions that can help to explain the processes responsible for in-school weapon carrying. The purposes of the current study were to evaluate personal (i.e., aggression) and environmental (i.e., experiencing threats with weapons) influences on in-school weapon carrying, and to evaluate the social-cognitive processes that may be responsible for these associations.

Participants were 414, primarily Latino, 6th-8th grade boys and girls. Participants completed two self-report questionnaires, one assessing children's social cognitions about weapon carrying, and another assessing weapon carrying and experiences of being threatened with a weapon. They also completed a peer nomination inventory assessing aggression and weapon carrying.

Results indicated that both aggression and experiencing weapon threats independently predicted cognitions about weapons and weapon carrying behavior. Children's cognitions about weapon carrying predicted weapon carrying behavior, but primarily for self-reported weapon carrying. Some support was found for a mediational model in which children's aggression and experiences of weapon threats predicted social cognitions about weapon carrying, which in turn, predicted weapon carrying. The strongest support was garnered for the association of weapon threats with self-reports of weapon carrying, as mediated by social cognitions about weapon carrying. The unique patterns evident for children of different ages and genders were explored and discussed.

The results shed light on the processes that may be responsible for in-school weapon carrying. Children who experience threatening environments (and to some extent, are aggressive) tend to feel more positively about weapons. These pro-weapon attitudes are associated positively with weapon carrying. Future studies are needed to clarify the direction of effects and to more thoroughly test the emergence of weapon carrying as a developmental process. The results from this study have important implications for prevention and intervention. Interventions aimed at targeting children's social cognitions about weapon carrying may help to prevent children from beginning to carry a weapon and to deter those who have already begun.