The effect of youth gangs on youth violence can be great. Many aspects of gang membership are associated with violent activity and the effect is that youths who participate in gang activity may be more likely to encounter violence. The presence of youth gangs within a community can lead to greater amounts of violence within that community. The general lifestyle and expectations of gang members, the use or trafficking of drugs and the presence of lethal weapons can all lead to violent activity among youths who come into contact with or participate in gangs.
Youth gangs have an effect on youth violence because the general lifestyle and expectations of youth gang members can lead to increased youth violence. Gang members, by nature of their gang affiliations, understand that committing acts of violence come with gang membership. According to a 1999 report from the U.S. Department of Justice, violence within gangs can be considered “a way of life;" gang members are many times required to commit certain violent acts during their initiation into the gang and can be required to commit further acts of violence to remain with the gang. Gang members may also encounter violence from other gangs and can be required to retaliate with more violence. Also, violence and violent activity is “integral” to the status of gang members, where the most violent of gang members can be credited with higher ranking and greater amounts of respect from the other gang members or even other rival gangs.
Modern youth gangs and the often omnipotent presence of drugs can lead to violent activity among youths who either use or sell these drugs. The widespread presence of drugs within and from gangs, present youths with opportunities to experiment with these drugs. The effects of drugs like alcohol, methamphetamines or crack cocaine can at times induce violent behavior. Youths who abuse drugs may turn to violent activity in order to support their addictions. Also, youths who participate in gang activity and the trafficking of drugs may encounter violence from rival gangs should the gangs have conflict over the territories of drug sales. This violence among gangs is known as “turf wars” and is considered systemic violence where the violent activity of some gangs stems from the desire to protect or expand their drug market.
As is the case with drugs, the presence of and access to weapons throughout youth gangs can escalate the effects on youth violence and may result in a greater magnitude of violence. Throughout the last half century gangs have equipped themselves with more lethal weapons, going from brass knuckles in the past to guns and heavy artillery today. A 1996 study of gangs in St. Louis stated that 81 percent of gang members carried a gun and that two-thirds of this group admitted to using the gun at least once. Thus, the presence of youth gangs and their association with weapons may result in more lethal forms of violence among youths.