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More juveniles committing firearm crimes in NC. How guns, gangs factor in.

Charlotte Observer - 3/5/2023

More young people are committing crimes in North Carolina, and they're using guns more often to carry them out.

That's according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, which updated the Governor's Crime Commission last week on juvenile crime in the state.

Juvenile offenses overall increased nearly 24% from 29,013 to 35,883 offenses during the reporting year that ended July 30, 2022.

"Perhaps most concerning in this data is the increase in violent offenses by juveniles," William L. Lassiter, the deputy secretary for Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, told The News & Observer.

Juvenile violent crimes jumped 21%, from 1,822 to 2,213 during the reporting period, The News & Observer previously reported.

The number of North Carolina youth charged with these crimes rose by 9% to 990 individuals, The N&O previously reported.

Those crimes include robberies, shootings and murders. Most involve firearms -- 65% of the cases where minors were arrested for violent crimes.

"The big takeaway from this data is that we must look to ways of keeping firearms out of the hands of juveniles, to include educating parents and adults in our communities about the responsible ownership and safe storage of their firearms," Lassiter told The N&O in an interview Friday.

Since Dec. 1, 2019, 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer prosecuted as adults due to the Raise the Age campaign that changed North Carolina law. Instead they are tried under the Juvenile Justice system, which is meant to be more age-appropriate and rehabilitative.

Since the change in the law, 16- and 17-year-olds have accounted for two-thirds of all juvenile firearm offenses in the 2022 calendar year alleged against individuals under 18 years of age.

2022:1,585 juveniles. 537 were under 16. two lines above we say there were 1,492 firearm offenses involving kids under 16, but here we say just 537. Which is it?

What's behind juvenile crime in NC?

Statewide from 2021 to 2022, youth nonviolent firearm offenses, such as possession of a handgun by a minor and larceny of a firearm, increased by 26% to 3,008, The N&O reported previously.

Experts attribute some of the increase in firearm offenses to more young people being involved in gangs.

"One of the ways that kids move up in gangs is stealing firearms," Lassiter said,

Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson, who attended the Governor's Crime Commission meeting, could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Gang-involved youth in the state increased in 2022, according to Juvenile Justice data.

There were 1,260 gang-involved juveniles out of 14,805 total juveniles arrested, up from 1,116 in 2021 and from 978 juveniles in 2020.

The state only began collecting criminal charge data on juveniles 17 and younger since the law changed in 2019, so experts are cautious about how to interpret the data.

The rise in juvenile crimes also coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, when juveniles had less access to social services, extracurricular activities and schools were closed. Gun sales also rose during that time.

Encouraging safe and proper storage of firearms kept in homes and vehicles.

Dispelling myths about firearm storage.

Increasing audiences' self-confidence in pursuing safe behavior.

Focusing on building confidence and trust to facilitate taking the next step in safely storing firearms.

The Juvenile Justice division is currently working with a vendor to develop a statewide safe gun storage campaign and to hold local events this year.

Virginia Bridges contributed to this story.

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