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Drug Dealing and Gun Carrying Go Hand in Hand: Examining How Juvenile Offenders’ Gun Carrying Changes Before and After Drug Dealing Spells Across 84 Months



This study aims to examine whether periods of marijuana and other illicit drug dealing (“spells” of dealing) are associated with changes in young male offenders’ gun carrying behavior.


This paper uses 84 months of data from a sample of 479 serious juvenile male offenders who were assessed every 6 months for 3 years and then annually for 4 years. At each assessment, participants reported on engagement in illicit behaviors, including drug dealing and gun carrying, in each month since the prior interview. We used fixed effects models to assess within-individual changes in participants’ gun carrying immediately before, during, and right after a dealing spell, while controlling for relevant time varying confounds (e.g., gang involvement, exposure to violence). Additionally, we tested moderation by type of drug sold.


There was a slight increase in gun carrying right before a drug dealing spell (OR = 1.3–1.4), then a more pronounced increase in gun carrying during the months of a drug dealing spell (OR = 8.0–12.8). Right after a dealing spell ends, youths’ gun carrying dropped dramatically, but remained significantly elevated relative to their baseline levels (OR = 2.6–2.8). The association between drug dealing spells and increases in gun carrying was stronger when participants dealt hard drugs (e.g., cocaine, heroin) relative to marijuana.


These results suggest that designing and implementing programs to prevent the initiation of drug dealing and decrease involvement in drug dealing may help to substantially reduce illegal gun carrying and firearm violence among delinquent males.

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Manuscript preparation was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health (R01HD086761). Data collection for The Pathways Study was funded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (2007-MU-FX-0002), National Institute of Justice (2008-IJ-CX-0023), John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, William T. Grant Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Center for Disease Control, National Institute on Drug Abuse (R01DA019697), Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and the Arizona Governor’s Justice Commission. This support does not imply endorsement of the findings or conclusions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Meagan Docherty.

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Docherty, M., Mulvey, E., Beardslee, J. et al. Drug Dealing and Gun Carrying Go Hand in Hand: Examining How Juvenile Offenders’ Gun Carrying Changes Before and After Drug Dealing Spells Across 84 Months. J Quant Criminol 36, 993–1015 (2020).

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  • Drug dealing
  • Gun carrying
  • Criminal careers
  • Delinquency
  • Firearms