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Gun Violence in America Term Paper


America has a vibrant gun culture based on the ownership and use of guns for different recreational activities. Despite this reality, most of the studies on gun violence focus on epidemiological and criminological aspects of the gun ownership (Yamane, 2017). Studies estimate that there 270 million guns in the hands of civilians in the US (Yamane, 2017). This implies that the guns in civilian hands are almost equal to the number of citizens in the nation.

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Sociologists note that gun ownership is a normative rather than deviant behavior in the American society yet sociologists have ignored this area of study leaving it to scholars in the fields of criminology and public health (Yamane, 2017). However, the pervasive gun ownership and strong cultural value attached to guns at both individual and national levels warrant a sociological perspective on gun culture (Yamane, 2017).

Historically, guns were an important part of the American society. From the early days, Americans took pride in gun ownership as a norm among citizens. Indeed, gun ownership was common among free men, women and male children during important historical periods of colonization, the revolution and the early republic (Yamane, 2017). However, the guns of this period were considered as a necessity rather than a cultural artifact. Further, guns were expensive as they were hand-crafted (Yamane, 2017). However, the industrial revolution enhanced production capacities making guns a mass produced commodity to be sold to the public. At the time, the markets for guns was not established and had to be stimulated through a processing of entrenching a gun culture among the citizens.

The impetus of the cultural transformation came in the form of a sport hunting culture which captured the American imagination (Yamane, 2017). During the 19th century, sport hunting became a mainstream form of recreation for many Americans with hunting enthusiasts routinely organizing shooting competitions. It was also during the 19th century that several shooting clubs emerged especially among cities with citizens of German descent (Yamane, 2017). The emergence of shooting clubs culminated in the formation of the National Rifle Association (NLA) in 1871. The NLA has historically played a central role in the promotion of a gun culture since its formation (Yamane, 2017). In the formative years, its activities focused on the promotion of shooting competitions. These competitions were extremely popular among gun owners.

The gun culture continued into the 20th century especially in the south and rural areas. An important part of the socialization of the gun culture was the rite of passage that involved the award of rifles to boys as a symbol of graduation into manhood (Yamane, 2017). The gun producers also actively promoted guns as symbols of masculinity through mass advertisements. Meanwhile, a gun collection culture evolved in the 20th century with the effect that guns were transformed into symbolic rather than utilitarian objects (Yamane, 2017).

Unfortunately, Americans do not only use guns for recreation as gun violence in the US exceeds that of most developed countries and disproportionately higher among blacks than whites (Ludwig, 2017). Some studies have suggested that gun restrictions can substantially reduce the incidence of gun violence. However, the benefits are limited to the checks imposed by the Brady Act studies on contemporary background checks indicate that they do not have a significant effect on gun violence (Newman & Hartman, 2017).

The recent spate in mass shootings has captured the public’s imagination and invigorated the calls for gun control. Even though mentions of mass shootings are prevalent in the media, there is no consensus in the scholarly community regarding the definition of mass shooting (Stroebe, Leander & Kruglanski, 2017). Different scholars and advocacy groups had different ways of defining mass shootings with definitions focusing on either the number of victims or the number of shots fired. However, the most common and mainstream definition of mass shooting is the one that focuses on the number of victims involved (Stroebe, Leander & Kruglanski, 2017). This definition regards mass shootings as shootings that target at least four potential victims. The commonly used formal definition of a mass shooting is the one used by the FBI and regards mass shooting as the shooting of four or more victims during a single shooting event or episode.

Congress has in recent years attempted to distinguish between mass shootings and mass public shootings. Mass public shootings are the group of all shootings that do not involve family members or felonies where the victims are involved in some form of crime (Cook & Pollack, 2017). Mass public shootings target certain groups or random members of public. National crime data indicates that mass public shootings are not as frequent as mass shootings though they claim more victims when they occur (Cook & Pollack, 2017). Research also indicates that the occurrence of mass shootings has been relatively stable over the past 60 years but the frequency of mass public shootings has increased in recent years from an average of one incident per year in the 1970s to 4.5 incidents annually between 2010 and 2013. The number of victims has also increased in recent years from an average of eight in the 1980s to the current average of 14.

Inevitably, the debate on mass shootings tends to gravitate towards the issue of gun control. Currently, there is no federal legislation regulating gun possession, but the FBI attempts to impose some control on gun ownership through the National Instant Criminal Background Check system (Stroebe, 2016). The system requires gun sellers to perform background checks on buyers before endorsing a gun purchase. However, some gun sales such as those at gun shows do not require background checks implying that some dangerous people could go undetected (Stroebe, 2016).

Given the fact that gun control is viewed as the solution to the public safety threat posed by gun violence, it is paradoxical that intensified gun control rhetoric by leaders promotes gun sales (Joslyn & Haider-Markel, 2017). Indeed, studies suggest that there is a spike in gun sales every time there are calls for stricter gun control policies. This is demonstrated by the spike in gun sales during the Obama administration and the prevailing drop in sales in Trumps tenure (Joslyn & Haider-Markel, 2017). One explanation for the paradoxical trend is that gun enthusiasts increase their buying habits when there is apprehension that the administration is bound to impose tough ownership restrictions.

Traditionally, gun sales have tended to rise after mass shootings. Scholars have proposed two explanations of this spike in the form of citizens need to protect themselves and the fear among gun enthusiasts that politicians will impose restrictive gun control measures (Wintemute et al. 2010). The first explanation that the fear of gun attacks motivates people to buy guns for self protection is consistent with research indicating that over 60% of gun owners buy guns for self-defense (Wintemute et al. 2010). However, this research is shrouded in controversy with some scholars faulting the methodologies used to reach the conclusion. At best the research evidence is mixed with some scholars finding no fear motive while others found differences in motivation to own guns between men and women (Joslyn & Haider-Markel, 2017). Nevertheless, some studies have found gun ownership to be positively associated with crime levels in the neighborhood and perceived risk of victimization but unrelated to the general fear of crime and victimization.

Studies indicate that there is a correlation between incidences of mass shootings and spikes in background checks (Barry et al. 2018). The spikes may occur immediately or a few months after the mass shooting. Since it is hard to determine what causes the spikes, it would be instructive to analyze the type of people who buy guns after mass shootings (Barry et al. 2018). Research indicates that most gun enthusiasts own several guns implying that the people who buy guns for self-protection after mass shootings are first time owners and those wishing to enhance their self-defense while to those who buy for fear of stricter restrictions are gun enthusiasts (Filindra & Kaplan, 2017).

From the literature, it is clear that there is a lack of consensus on the best way of controlling gun violence. The study will explore the approaches to gun control that is likely to reduce homicides and mass shootings. The researcher will conduct a quantitative research on the effect of different gun control measures on gun violence in three American states.

The research will generate information on effective strategies of mitigating gun violence. It will inform policy on gun control and hopefully address the issue of imposing gun control while respecting the deeply entrenched gun culture in the US (Yamane, 2017).
Research question: Which interventions on gun control can reduce incidences of gun violence?

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Barry, C., MPP, Webster, D., Stone, E., Crifasi, C., Vernick, J., & McGinty, E. (2018). Public
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Gun Violence: Fatally Flawed Study Yields Misleading Results. American journal of public health, 100(10), 1856-1860.
Yamane, D. (2017). The sociology of U.S. gun culture. Sociology compass, 11(7), 1-10.

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