Public life of america criminology essay

Introduction

Since the middle of the 20th century and until present, gun control has been one of the notorious and most controversial in the politics and public life of America. Following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and President Kennedy, the easing of the gun control methods brought a new vision of effective protection and peace to the democratic world. However, at all times, it is public perceptions of gun control that predetermined the choice of various political strategies and even predicted the most unexpected political outcomes. For instance, back in 2000, Al Gore’s defeat in the Presidential race was mainly attributed to the fact that the ” pro-gun” public perceived him as ” anti-gun” (Anonymous, 2012). Today, more Americans are believed to protect the need for stricter gun laws, mainly because the rates of gun violence in America have reached unprecedented levels. The recent death of 20 children and six teachers in a Connecticut public school raises many questions about the effectiveness and efficiency of today’s gun laws. At all times, easing the methods of gun control was associated with the need to combat crime. The relationship between gun ownership and crime rates was often taken for granted. At the same time, in the midst of crime and violence, certain states retained strict control mechanisms over gun ownership. At present, Chicago and the state of Illinois exemplify the area of strict gun controls. Nevertheless, even against laws, state residents manage to find and own illegal guns. No less surprising is the fact that in the state with the strictest gun control laws, getting illegal guns may be one of the easiest tasks (Main, 2012). Stores located in Chicago suburbs and small communities supply weapons to legal and illegal customers, even when the risks of legal penalties for this kind of activity are the highest. Apparently, the gap between the objective legal reality and individual perceptions of gun ownership should not be ignored. Most probably, public perceptions of safety and crime make Chicago residents act against the existing gun laws. Simultaneously, it seems that even the strictest laws fail to act when the public perceptions of ineffective gun control and high crime rates become overwhelming. This, in turn, requires more professional attention to be paid to the individual and collective perceptions of gun control and its relation to crime. Earlier researchers have been quite successful analyzing the relation of gun control to crime. Numerous objective measures were used to analyze the ways in which gun ownership could or could not reduce crime. Statistical information was used to research possible changes in crime rates under the impact of gun ownership or gun control. Unfortunately, the major problem of the earlier research is that it completely ignores the significance and moderating role of individual perceptions. As mentioned earlier, in the context of gun control, individual perceptions play one of the most essential roles. Individual citizens change their perceptions of gun control under the influence of objective events. The example of Justin Cronin (2013), the op-ed contributor to the New York Times is very demonstrative: in his article, Cronin (2013) tells the story of a liberal gun owner, whose perceptions of gun control and its positive role in managing crime intensified after the tragic events following Hurricane Katrina. Other gun owners or those, who vote against gun ownership, may have similar stories, and their perceptions of gun ownership and gun control are strongly related to the electoral choices they eventually make once in several years. Even despite such compelling arguments, most researchers remain quite passive to the problem of gun control perceptions, as well as the individual perceptions of crime rates. Yet, better knowledge of the construct could help shape the political landscape and uncover the hidden facets of gun ownership, gun control, and their implications for public safety. This being said, it is essential that individual perceptions of gun control and their relation to the perceptions of crime rates are investigated. The analysis of recent publications and the state of crime in the United States suggest that perceptions could become a potent tool of massive changes in the way guns are administered and controlled at the local, state, and federal levels. Bearing in mind the complexity of the gun control laws in Chicago and the overall availability of illegal guns in the state, it is possible to say that individual perceptions of insufficient public safety and high crime rates may easily push these individuals to obtain guns even it can result in penalties up to incarceration. Citizens may also feel that the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution gives them the universal right to carry arms. The controversies surrounding gun control and gun ownership in the U. S. are so numerous that it is never possible to resolve them at once. Therefore, it is better to start with the analysis of U. S. citizens’ perceptions of gun control and its relation to crime rates.

Project Overview

The state of Illinois and the city of Chicago, in particular, are well-known for their strict approaches to gun control. Carrying or concealing weapons in the Chicago area is illegal. The main laws governing the issues of gun ownership in the Chicago area include but are not limited to the Criminal Code, the Wildlife Code, and the Firearm Owner’s Identification Card Act. More specifically, Article 24 (720 ILCS 5/24-1) relates to the ownership and control of deadly weapons, whereas Wildlife Code 520 ILCS 5/2. 3 is designed to strengthen the state’s power in gun control issues. All current and future Illinois laws related to gun ownership and control can be regularly updated to meet the changing demands of the sophisticated crime realities at the state level. The purpose of this project is to review and analyze the relationship between Illinois residents’ gun control perceptions and their perceptions of crime rates. The project will cover two Chicago areas: Cook County (Skokie), which is currently one of the most populous and largest Chicago suburbs, and Carbon Hill, Grundy County. Residents of Cook County must have a Firearm Owner’s Identification card, just in case they possess or carry concealed arms. Simultaneously, the rates of illegal gun trade and ownership are the highest in the state of Illinois. Main (2012) writes that between 2008 and 2012, at least 1, 375 guns were detected in crimes committed in Chicago. Fifty-eight percent of all guns detected in Chicago crimes were found to have their roots somewhere in Illinois (Main, 2012). The controversy surrounding the problem of gun control and gun ownership in Chicago may be directly or indirectly related to the way Chicago residents perceive the effectiveness of the existing gun control laws and their impacts on crime rates. This being said, this project involves the analysis of residents’ perceptions of gun control laws and their impact on crime rates in the village of Skokie (Cook County) and Carbon Hill (Grundy County). The choice of these two areas is justified by the fact that they are both included in the Chicago suburban area and must follow the laws and regulations pertaining to gun control in the state of Illinois. The difference between Skokie and Carbon Hill should not be ignored: while the former represents one of the largest suburban areas in the Chicago area, the latter remains one of the least populous suburban territories. This difference may have far-reaching implications for the analysis of individual perceptions of gun control and its impacts on crime. According to Cook et al. (2009), gun control perceptions vary by geographical area and region, and small town residents are much more likely to have and carry concealed arms that large city residents. The results of this study will be useful in a number of areas, including political analysis and electoral politics, as far as individual perceptions of the most controversial political issues, including gun control, can profoundly alter the country’s political landscape (Cook & Ludwig, 2003).

Literature Review

The current state of literature provides overwhelming arguments in favor and against gun control. More often than not, these arguments are related to the way gun control laws are related to the rates of crime. Simply put, gun control laws hold the promise to reduce the rates of homicides and other violent crimes, but whether or not they really help reduce violence is an open question. What seems interesting is that the roots of the gun control philosophy in the United States are associated with the concepts of discrimination and power (Cramer, 1995). Simply stated, discrimination and racism are believed to underlie the current gun control laws (Cramer, 1995). Cramer (1995) suggests that the origins of gun control laws are inseparable from the states’ imminent desire to keep Hispanics and Blacks under constant control. This, in turn, had to alleviate the gun and violence fears of whites (Cramer, 1995). Those, who defend private gun ownership, believe that it is the only possible way to eliminate violence. They mostly believe in the universal gun ownership right proclaimed and protected by the U. S. Constitution (LaFollette, 2000). On the other side of the gun control debate are those, who rely on the existing empirical evidence and claim that gun control helps reduce the scope of crime (Cook & Ludwig, 1997; Mokan & Tekin, 2006). Unfortunately, the current evidence is too meager to confirm the relevance of gun control and its positive (or negative) impacts on crime rates. Much more essential are the ways in which individuals perceive the importance of gun ownership and control and its implications for crime.

Gun ownership: Statistics and crime

The study of gun ownership and control should begin with the analysis of the recent gun ownership statistics. The online resources Gun Policy. org (2012) provides the latest gun ownership data. According to Gun Policy (2012), Americans currently own an estimated 270, 000, 000 civilian guns. More specifically, the United States owns approximately 88. 8 weapons per 100 population (Gun Policy, 2012). As a result, the U. S. is ranked the first in the list of countries according to the number of weapons owned by the civilian population. Meanwhile, while the total number of deaths resulting from guns continues to increase (28, 874 in 1999 compared to 32, 163 in 2011), the proportion of gun deaths per 100 population remains relatively stable (10. 3-10. 35 in the period between 1999 and 2011) (Gun Policy, 2012). That the ownership of firearms in the U. S. is increasingly concentrated was also confirmed by Cook, Ludwig and Samaha (2009): they suggest that, in 2009, between 200 and 250 million firearms were privately owned in America. In other words, the United States has enough firearms to provide every single citizen, including children and elderly society members, with a gun. Researchers also confirm the fact that the U. S. has the highest rates of gun ownership in the developed world: Miller, Azrael and Hemenway (2002) found that the U. S. had more guns and higher gun ownership levels than other developed countries. The most surprising is the fact that, with so many firearms owned by Americans, three-fourths of American adults do not have a single gun; thus, most adults who own guns in America have more than one item (Cook et al., 2009; Cook & Ludwig, 1997). Three fourths of those, who already possess a firearm, will eventually choose to have many. At present, it is still unclear whether gun ownership relates to the level of crime: Cook et al. (2009) suggest that those, who own at least one gun, are much more likely to have a criminal record than those, who do not have any guns at home. Here, it is interesting to look at the international gun ownership-crime correlations and consider what literature has to say about gun ownership, in general. It has become quite popular among scholars to monitor variations in the level of gun ownership and its impacts on crime in different countries. Cross-country variations in gun ownership and crime levels have the potential to explain the current and future effectiveness of various gun control laws. Back in 1993, Professor Killias published the result of his study, where international correlations between reported levels of gun ownership and the rates of suicide or homicide involving guns were examined. The researcher randomly selected 14 different countries, including the United States. The results confirmed positive correlations between the national rates of suicide and homicide with guns and the reported rates of gun ownership (Killias, 1993). Still, Killias (1993) concluded that larger studies were needed to explore the moderating and confounding factors affecting such relationships. Several years later, Killias confirmed the results of the first study, thus establishing the link between gun ownership and crime. They were also reported and confirmed by Killias, van Kesteren and Rindlisbacher (2001), leading to the conclusion that ” guns in the home are an important risk factor in suicide with guns, as well as a threat to women, whereas their role in homicide of male victims and street crime may be much less prominent” (p. 430-1). In other words, an emerging consensus is that gun ownership is positively correlated with the rates of crime, but not all types of criminal activity are equally prevalent, when it comes to guns.

Gun control laws and their effectiveness

At present, the United States runs a well-developed complex system of gun laws. It is commonly assumed that all gun ownership laws that have been implemented in the U. S. reflect the fundamental features of federal legislation and have little to do with the administrative rulemaking chaos (Cook et al., 2009). The typology of gun control laws in the U. S. includes: (a) interstate access restrictions; (b) gun design laws and restrictions; (c) laws regulating gun possession and use; (d) gun laws and regulations that govern record-keeping procedures and can be used to solve various types of gun-related crimes; and (e) mass tort litigation (Cook et al., 2009). In the Chicago area and the entire state of Illinois, gun possession and use laws are the most potent and important. At the federal level, only Vermont and Alaska have not implemented any restrictions on gun ownership and use (Cook et al., 2009). Meanwhile, the principles of gun storage have become an object of heightened attention: more states are coming to realize the importance of safe gun storage and its implications for the rates of crime. Cook and Leitzel (1996) provide a comprehensive review of the purpose and intent of federal law with regard to gun ownership. According to Cook and Leitzel (1996), the country constantly seeks to find a middle ground between total prohibition and laissez fair, thus making guns available for legitimate use while also trying to prevent the use of guns in criminal activities. Moreover, federal law is designed to monitor and address possible variations in the severity of gun ownership laws across states (Cook & Leitzel, 1996). Cook and Leitzel (1996) write that federal law is intended to avoid too lax gun controls in some states and, at the same time, undermine more restrictive regimes in other states. Whether or not federal law fulfills its balancing purpose is beyond the scope of this research. At the same time, it is clear that federal law makes it easier for the states to run effective record-keeping procedures for manufacturers and dealers (Cook & Leitzel, 1996). Selling weapons of mass destruction is illegal; federal law places a ban on the import of certain types of weapons and establishes a minimal set of restrictions on who may purchase and possess a gun (Cook & Leitzel, 1996). Unfortunately, even the most effective laws do not always help resolve the issue of crime. More specifically, federal law ignores the complexity of the gun-crime relationship, and the social costs of both gun controls and gun ownership can be particularly high. Kwon, Scott, Safranski & Bae (1997) review the main reasons why gun control and gun ownership laws can be equally ineffective. First, socioeconomic factors play a great role in the way guns or gun controls are related to the rates of crime: the presence of a gun at home may not suffice to result in a homicide or suicide, but coupled with persistent unemployment, the lack of even the basic means of survival, as well as alcohol and drug abuse, gun ownership may readily lead to violence (Kwon et al., 1997). Of particular importance is the way moving into urbanized areas and looking for new job opportunities can have impacts on the level of violence and crime: Kwon et al. (1997) suggest that urban areas attract strangers, who come to large cities looking for a better life. These strangers further create a climate that is conducive of crime. More guns do not necessarily lead to more crime, whereas fewer guns may not help reduce crime rates. Cook and Ludwig (2004) speak about the complexity of the gun-crime relationship and possible factors confounding it. This complexity further impacts the effectiveness of gun control laws. For instance, criminals and youths are claimed to have better chances to obtain guns, where gun ownership is widespread, while in the neighborhoods with strict gun controls obtaining guns may be problematic and even impossible (Cook & Ludwig, 2004). In communities with high rates of gun ownership, obtaining guns can be easier through thefts: statistically, almost 500, 000 gun items are stolen each year in the U. S. (Cook & Ludwig, 2004). All these controversies turn the implementation of effective gun control laws into an unachievable task. Similar concerns are expressed by other scholars. Ludwig (2005) wrote about the difficulty balancing the needs for effective citizen protection with the need for strict gun controls. All gun control laws are associated with and result in a serious crime-civil liberties tradeoff (Ludwig, 2005). To a large extent, these results speak about the overall inconsistency of the federal law and failure to fulfill its basic intent. No less controversial is the issue of underground gun markets, as even the most effective laws have historically failed to eliminate them. Cook, Ludwig, Venkatesh and Braga (2006) found out that, despite the existence of considerable limitations, underground gun markets provide enough resources to satisfy states’ demand for guns. At present, measuring the impacts of gun controls on crime rates is an extremely complicated task. On the one hand, scholars and professionals in gun control do not have any single instrument for measuring gun control, as the concept of gun control is too broad and lacks a comprehensive definition (Moorhouse & Wanner, 2006). On the other hand, the extent to which gun control laws are enforced varies by state (Moorhouse & Wanner, 2006). All those problems were also cited by Hahn et al. (2005). Depending on the conditions of legal performance, one and the same law will have entirely different impacts on the public, which warrants the need for a more profound analysis of the problem.

Perceptions of gun control and crime rates: What does literature have to say?