Researchers from the University of Michigan Injury Center found that one in every four youths that were assault victims and treated in emergency rooms carried a gun, most probably an illegal one.

Gun possession controls and minimizing illegal possession of firearms currently hold top priority in the U.S. agenda. In a related study that could help these causes, researchers from the University of Michigan Injury Center found 23 percent of youths that were victims of assault and sought treatment in emergency rooms carried a gun. Over 80 percent of these guns were illegal, researchers reported in a press release.

These results were obtained after the authors of the research interviewed 689 teens and young adults that were assault victims and came for treatment in the emergency department in Flint, Michigan.

The researchers found that 22 percent of the participants admitted to carrying guns, which in a number of cases were highly lethal automatic or semiautomatic weapons. Most of these guns were obtained within six months from the day of the assault. Possession of firearms for recreational or hunting purposes was not included in the study.

Researchers also noted that youths in possession of weapons were more likely to get into serious fights compared to youths who didn't carry a weapon. They were also more likely to use illegal drugs or misuse prescription drugs and to express approval for retaliation after an injury.

"This study zeroes in on a high-risk population of assault injured youth that has not been studied in this way previously," says lead-author Patrick Carter, M.D., a clinical lecturer and injury research fellow in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the U-M Medical School and substance abuse section of the Department of Psychiatry. "The high rates of substance use, fighting and attitudes favoring retaliation, combined with the fact that so many of these youth had firearms, increases their risk for future firearm violence, as well as injury or death. But, our findings also provide an opportunity for public health interventions that could decrease their future firearm violence risk."

The study didn't analyze the effectiveness of emergency visits if used as a "teachable moment", though such visits have been used as an opportunity to educate the victim about the potential consequences of his/her actions in previous studies conducted on drug abuse and youth violence.

Carter says that similar findings have been observed in other states as well and is not unique to Flint. Though previous studies have been conducted on gun ownership or access among ED patients, this is the first study to look at youth victims of assault as they are at a higher risk of negative health outcomes.