With estimates of nearly 400 million privately-owned firearms in the United States and more than 40,000 deaths due to gun violence each year, guns and gun ownership have become polarizing issues. Forty-eight percent of Americans view gun violence as a major problem, with more than half of US citizens favouring stricter gun laws. The prevailing arguments, both for and against greater gun ownership restrictions, incorporate a range of issues, from party lines and political agendas to the influence of media coverage and the role of police in combatting violence—but what does recent scholarship reveal, and how might this scholarship inform policy for the better?
On today’s episode of The Oxford Comment, we explore the history of gun ownership in the United States and practical solutions for resolving contemporary gun violence. First, we welcomed Robert J Spitzer, the author of The Gun Dilemma: How History is Against Expanded Gun Rights, to share new historical research on America’s gun law history as it informs modern gun policy disputes. We then interviewed Philip J Cook, the author of Policing Gun Violence: Strategic Reforms for Controlling Our Most Pressing Crime Problem, who spoke with us about utilising the police as a strategic resource for reducing gun violence.
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Read the first chapter from Robert Spitzer’s book, The Gun Dilemma: How History is Against Expanded Gun Rights, which explores the policy dilemma of a public strongly supportive of stronger gun laws, and overwhelmingly supporting of existing laws, while gun rights advocates press to repeal existing gun laws by expanding the definition of gun rights.
Read the second chapter of Philip J. Cook and Anthony Braga’s book Policing Gun Violence, which explores the social burden of gun violence. The authors explore the widespread fear and trauma that stem from the threat of gun violence and the required vigilance to avoid victimization, addressing the statistics of the communities that are most affected.
The fourth chapter of The Silent Epidemic of Gun Injuries by Melvin Delgado approaches gun violence interventions as establishing a foundation using the latest thinking and data. A social perspective on gun injuries allows for casting a wide net in capturing this phenomenon, helping readers develop a wide lens for gun injury. Grasping the social meaning of guns is essential in coordinating public health campaigns on the outcomes they cause.
Read the introduction to Mark R. Joslyn’s The Gun Gap: The Influence of Gun Ownership on Political Behavior and Attitudes, wherein the gun gap is defined to refer to differences in political behavior and attitudes between gun owners and nonowners. In addition, the introduction establishes why the gun gap is important for understanding modern mass politics.
This chapter from Pained: Uncomfortable Conversations about the Public’s Health by Michael D. Stein and Sandro Galea explores how states with stricter firearm legislation have fewer fatal police shootings—defined as the rate of people killed by law enforcement agencies. Also assessed is the relationship between different types of legislation and rates of fatal police shootings, showing laws that strengthen background checks, promote child and consumer safety, and reduce gun trafficking are linked to lower rates of fatal police shootings.
Read the following Open Access articles from our journals:
- Social media response to mass shootings in the United States provides an important window into the nature of public mourning and policy debates in the wake of these tragedies: “Whose Lives Matter? Mass Shootings and Social Media Discourses of Sympathy and Policy, 2012–2014” by Yini Zhang et al, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication (July 2019)
- Social movements pushed to reconceptualize intimate partner violence (IPV) as a social problem deserving of intervention rather than a private family matter, but political ideology and affiliation shape support for disarming the abuser or arming the victim: “Polarized Support for Intimate Partner Violence Gun-Related Interventions” by Anne Groggel, Social Problems (January 2023)
- Within the business of organized crime, guns are mostly used as a threat or to maim or kill but they also serve the more basic masculine requirement of protection, giving them a symbolic meaning as well as serving as a resource for achieving power: “Masculinities on the Continuum of Structural Violence: The Case of Mexico’s Homicide Epidemic” by Jennie B Gamblin and Sarah J Hawkes, Social Politics: International Studies in Gender, State & Society (Spring 2018)
- Taking a long view of police shootings from 1970 to 2020 lessens the stochastic effect of shootings over shorter time periods and reveals that the frequency of police shootings has increased in both jurisdictions over this period, despite police not being routinely armed with firearms: “Police Shootings in New Zealand and England and Wales: A Cross-National Comparison” by Ross Hendy and Darren Walton, Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice (April 2022)
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