YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The Youngstown Police Department is working to get illegal guns off the streets, but one of the biggest questions is: How are kids getting ahold of them? 

Captain Jason Simon, with the Youngstown Police Department, said that question is hard to answer. 

“Getting them off the streets, from their friends who are older, or they’re passing guns amongst themselves, or they get them from their parents, who possess firearms legally, but they’re not securing them, they’re not locking them up,” Simon said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, guns became the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020.

Sunday, a court hearing was held where three Youngstown juveniles are accused of shooting and killing a 14-year-old boy. Two of the suspects were 16 at the time, and one was 15.

In November 2022, two 16-year-olds were arrested in Youngstown when police found three guns, including an AK-47-style semiautomatic rifle, during a traffic stop. 

In September, a 17-year-old was arrested when he allegedly ran from police and dropped a gun. Another teen, 15, was also arrested that month and later convicted of having a gun at the Canfield Fair.

In January 2023, a 17-year-old was arrested in Salem after police say he took a gun with him to an after-school program. 

In April of this year, a 14-year-old boy was found asleep in a stolen car with a 9mm handgun that had a drum magazine in his waistband.

These are just several instances among others that have happened in the past year. 

“What we’re starting to see locally and in a nationwide trend, seems to be younger folks, teenagers having firearms on them more. Even if they’re not necessarily committing a violent crime, they’re committing the crime of having a firearm on them,” Simon said.

According to a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, between 2002 to 2019, the number of youth carrying guns has increased by 41%. More specifically, the highest increases were found among rural, white and higher-income adolescents. 

But it’s still unclear where the guns are coming from.

“What we’re seeing more frequently, and this is clearly a federal offense, is what we call a straw purchase where an individual is buying a gun for somebody else, that may legally not be able to possess a firearm,” Simon said.

Simon said they have also seen some guns reported stolen after being left in vehicles. 

A study by the American College of Physicians shows that more than 5 million children under 18 were exposed to guns in their households from January 2019 to April 2021.

Simon said having the proper training and education when it comes to handling guns is of the utmost importance. 

“Most of that training is actually safety and common sense, into when, where you should bring a firearm and the safety involved in it,” Simon said.

YPD is working with other agencies to help remove illegal guns from the streets. Simon said on average, they recover around 12 illegal guns a month.

Simon encourages legal gun owners to keep their firearms secure to avoid them falling into the wrong hands.