RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) — Across the state, we’re seeing an increase in the number of children committing crimes with firearms, and those kids are getting younger and younger.

The state’s deputy secretary over juvenile justice, William Lassiter, said about 20 percent of all juvenile crimes in North Carolina involve guns. In 2018, it was only four percent.

In most cases, children are getting firearms from their parents. But Lassiter said there’s another growing problem that’s allowing kids access.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of motor vehicle breaking and enterings for the sole purpose of stealing a firearm,” he said.

New data from the state breaks down the number of firearm larcenies in the past two years from children ages 9 to 17.

Firearm offense: larceny of a firearm by age at offense
Firearm offense: larceny of a firearm by age at offense

From 2020 to 2021, North Carolina recorded 379 of these offenses. The highest number was in the 16-year-old age group. From 2021 to now, there have been 362 larcenies of guns by children with the most by 17-year-olds.

“The number of motor vehicle break-ins has increased from about five percent of them involving stealing a weapon to now about 22 percent,” Lassiter said.

Lassiter said money is motivating children to want access to guns.

“Firearms that sell on the street can sell for $500 to 600, sometimes $1000, and so it’s easy money,” he said.

Lassiter has seen North Carolina kids as young as eight years old in possession of a gun.

He specifically mentioned 10-year-old Laelani Jeffries from Reidsville, who died after police say she was shot by her 14-year-old cousin two weeks ago. That’s just one of multiple incidents in the Piedmont Triad.

FOX8 reached out to local law enforcement agencies to gather data on teenagers in possession of guns. In the past two years, Greensboro police recovered 10 guns on children ages 13 to 17. High Point police found 13 guns on children in that same age group. Reidsville police recovered 10 guns n people ages 16 to 20 years old.

The state is kicking off multiple campaigns to put an end to the violence. One of those is set to roll out in November called the Safe Storage Program.

“So that we can make sure as an adult that we take the responsible measure of not letting these firearms get in the hands of young people,” Lassiter said.

There’s also an Educating Kids about Guns initiative in the works where experts will partner with schools and go into classrooms to talk with students.

“We want to make sure that young people especially truly understand the real and permanent consequences of those firearms,” Lassiter said.

These trends are not unique to North Carolina. We’re seeing them across the country.

Lassiter said a lot of this has to do with the number of gun permits issued during the pandemic.

In North Carolina, that number shot up by 300 percent. Lassiter said that means there are plenty of new gun owners who might not know how to properly secure their firearms.