Young people are less likely to have a gun in their possession in those U.S. states where gun laws are more restrictive, a study suggests.

Researchers looked at data from a survey on gun possession among high school students in 38 U.S. states, then matched that against how aggressively firearm possession was regulated in each of the states.

They looked at restrictions such as mandatory background checks required for gun purchases, minimum purchasing ages, bans on certain types of weapons and limitations on guns in public places.

In states where guns laws were considered more restrictive, 5.7 percent of students surveyed said they had handled or carried a gun in the past month; in states with more permissive guns laws the figure was 7.3 percent, researchers reported in JAMA Pediatrics.

Those figures appear to be linked to adult gun ownership, researchers say; if tighter gun laws reduce the rate of adult gun ownership, teens are less likely to have access to guns to carry around.

"We were able to demonstrate for the first time that across all the states (in the study) that gun laws reduce youth gun carrying by limiting or reducing adult gun ownership," says study lead author Ziming Xuan, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.

Other experts agreed with that conclusion.

The study is "basically saying, adult gun ownership is the real problem," said Bindu Kalesan from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, who was not involved in the research.

Governments and adults in other developed countries have made access to guns by youth difficult, Xuan says, contrasting that with the U.S., where around a quarter of adolescents said in the survey that they had access to a gun in their home.

Around 15,000 teenagers die in the U.S. every year; the top three causes are unintentional injuries, homicides and suicides, with most of the homicides and almost half the suicides involving guns, the researchers note.

Although gun laws have become more restrictive in some states, there is still a long way to go to keep them out of the hands of young people, experts say.

"Consumer safety laws, which regulate everything from cars to teddy bears, are essentially nonexistent when it comes to firearms," says Dr. Eric Fleegler, an emergency medicine specialist at Boston Children's Hospital, who was also not involved in the study.

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