In a recent post, I was critical of a publication in the New England Journal of Medicine called “Crossing Lines–A Change in the Leading Cause of Death among U.S. Children.” Despite the title focusing attention on “children,” the data cited in the article included deaths for individuals 1 to ***24*** years of age, which even in this coddled age stretches the definition of children too far.
I noted in that post, “it may be the case that the leading cause of death among U.S. children has changed. The data provided in this article don’t allow us to answer that question.”
I include the modifier “criminal” here, because descriptively homicide means causing the death of another person. This would include legally justifiable killing (e.g., in self-defense). Some who study “gun violence” actually do not distinguish between justifiable homicide and criminal homicide, but I think that is an important starting point.
It is also important to recognize that the majority of people who are criminal gunshot victims survive. Hence the gun trainer adage that “aggravated assault is just a failed homicide.”
The guiding idea of this module (as with the previous module on suicide and accidental gun injury) is that these negative outcomes with firearms are not randomly distributed through the population. Understanding the people and places where they cluster is essential to a sociological perspective on the issue.
Because this is the primary area of research on guns in the academy today, the recommended reading list is massive for this module.
Another day in America, another pile of bodies, and another set of cries for gun control. Predictably, the Atlanta and Boulder and Indianapolis mass public shootings were followed by calls to ban AR-style rifles. President Biden proposes to subject “ghost guns” to background checks and place pistol-stabilizing braces under the National Firearms Act as short-barreled rifles.
This marks a return to the old, pre-pandemic normal in America in which extremely rare cases of large-scale homicide bring efforts to regulate guns and gun parts in ways so general they are unlikely to have the desired effect of dramatically reducing gun violence.
As tragic as they are, overemphasis on these dramatic but rare events diverts our attention from the vast majority of homicides which involve fewer than four victims, victims who are shot with regular old handguns that are acquired in transactions not covered by criminal background checks.
Having studied American gun culture for a decade now, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday gun violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. Efforts to reduce this violence should, therefore, be equally concentrated on addressing its causes in these same areas. Doing so shifts efforts at intervention away from guns per se, a move that allows us to circumvent federal gridlock on gun legislation and as well as legal challenges to gun regulation. We can carve a political path forward right now by decoupling violence reduction from gun control.
In my Sociology of Guns seminar, I typically allocate 2 or 3 of the modules to gun injury, suicide, and homicide. Teaching on-line this semester, I provided the students with an overview of negative outcomes with guns asynchronously (via a narrated PowerPoint turned into a YouTube video) so we would have more time in our on-line (Zoom) synchronous class session to delve into the issues more deeply.