Working Together: ‘Invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms

The BSC Victims Network hosted their first research planning and writing day. Reflections include participants feedback.

Dr Hannah Bows is currently a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Teesside University. Her research coalesces around age/ageing, victimisation and gender with particular interests in violent crime against older women. Her recent work includes a national study of rape against older people, a national study profiling homicide of older people and a study exploring ‘risk’ in relation to older sex offenders and policing. She is the editor of a forthcoming two-volume edited collection on Violence Against Older Women (Palgrave MacMillan, 2019) and monograph based on her national study of rape against older people (Routledge, 2018). Outside of the university, she is the deputy director of the BSC Victims Network, Chair of Age UK Teesside and sits as a Magistrate on the Durham and Darlington bench. From August 2018 she will be taking up the role of Assistant Professor in Criminal Law at Durham University.

Professor Pamela Davies lectures in Criminology in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Pam’s main research interests are victimological and connect to criminal and non-criminal types of victimisation and social harm. She has a particular focus on gender, crime and victimization and has engaged in research and evaluations of gender based violence.  Pam has published widely on the subject of victims, victimization and social harm and on how gender connects to matters of community safety. She has authored Gender, Crime and Victimisation (Sage) and has co-edited a number of texts including Victims, Crime and Society (2007, 2017), Invisible Crimes and Social Harms (2014) and Doing Criminological Research (2000, 2011, 2018).

 

As we write this, the BBC is airing The Stephen Lawrence Story. This brutal murder and three part documentary of it is a chilling reminder of the vocabularies of victimization. The death of Stephen provoked a fight for justice by his parents, which has changed the landscape of policing and race relations. This and other well publicized forms of criminal victimization including sexual exploitation and systematic abuse of vulnerable young people in our neighborhoods and the continued efforts to tackle violence against women and girls are sad indictments of life in 21st century Britain.

The BSC Victims Network is a collection of people within the criminology community who have interests around victims of crime and social harm, survivors and resilience. We are committed to raising awareness of ‘invisible’ crimes, victimisations and social harms and to securing justice for those experiencing or affected by crime, atrocities, disasters and injustices through our scholarly activities. The Network facilitates the cross-national exchange of work and ideas relating to these concerns under the shorthand label ‘victims’.  The network brings individuals together to facilitate and promote theory development and research. It provides an arena for information exchange, critical analysis and debate across the research, policy and practice communities – nationally and internationally – encourages networking between academics, researchers, practitioners and students, and looks for opportunities to secure research or consultancy income.

On 26 March 2018, the British Society of Criminology Victims Network (BSCVN) hosted the first research planning and writing day for 17 members at Sheffield Hallam University. Participants immersed themselves in thinking about, discussing and writing about some of the most seriously debilitating experiences imaginable including the direct and indirect impact of criminal and non- criminal forms of victimization, harm and suffering. The day was divided into two parts: established academics met to discuss research ideas or plans, develop networks and collaborations and discussed funding opportunities and early career academics and postgraduate students took part in a writing day, with each ECR/PG assigned to one of the established academics for mentoring and supporting.

The day kicked off over coffee (of course) at 9.30am, where all delegates introduced themselves and their research and outlined their plans and goals for the day: most members had a specific book, chapter or journal article that they wanted to work on and most set an ambitious target of 500 words by the end of the day. Following this, the writers convened and spent the morning writing with mentoring support built in. After a delicious lunch, featuring cake and coffee, members reconvened to discuss how the morning had gone and revise/confirm their goals/targets for the afternoon session. Professor Davies provided an overview of her and Professor Matthew Hall’s current book series on ‘Victims and Victimology’ and explained the publishing process for those interested in submitting proposals.

A general discussion of publishing, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and approaches to writing followed before members returned to writing and/or research planning. At the end of the day, members reconvened to reflect on how the day had gone, what they had achieved and what their goals were going forward.

I just wanted to thank you (and Hannah – who I’ll also email) so much for organising such a brilliant day. I really appreciated the opportunity to meet new colleagues and the time away from my institution to think. It was a very valuable day and I am still working my way through the list of ideas and “to dos” and feeling quite inspired!

The day provided a much-needed opportunity for members to have dedicated time to write/plan research and discuss ideas, challenges and opportunities with colleagues. The day was supportive and feedback during and after the event attested to the importance of having the time and space to write, and to the benefit of having the opportunity to talk with colleagues, discuss tips and the ups and downs of writing, and bounce around ideas.

Thanks again for a great day

 – what a good day it was! Thanks so much (and to Hannah) for organising – it was a productive and thoroughly enjoyable day! I hope you both got home ok? 

Thank you very much for the BSC Victims Day. It was a very productive day and great to meet some new faces….

 I just want to thank you for a very useful and constructive day. I really enjoyed the balance of writing and networking/collaborating – the day was well structured.

Following this success, we hope to organise similar events in the future. Watch this space!

If you want to join us, do subscribe to our jisc list here – www.jiscmail.ac.uk/BSCVICTIMSNETWORK

Contact

Hannah Bows – Teesside University

Email: hannah.bows@durham.ac.uk

Twitter: @Hannah_Bows

Pamela Davies – Northumbria University

Email: pamela.davies@northumbria.ac.uk

 

Copyright free image: from BSC website

How Lucky Am I: Victim, to Researcher, back to Victim

This article plots a course from being a victim of hate crime to passionately researching hate crimes; in doing so, the author relives shared victim experience.

David Wilkin is a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leicester; considered as a mature student, although (in his words) any prospect of attaining maturity remains a distant concept. Following a long career in public transport and business he is now impassioned to understand why people can be so fervent in their abuse of others.

How lucky was I? I recall as a child how much I loathed the bus or train trip to school. I wore black-framed, National Health Service (NHS)–issued, heavy spectacles with thick lenses and I had a psychological disorder which resulted in unusual mannerisms. Little wonder then that I was a victim of hate and abuse. If I had been an abuser, I would have sought a similarly ‘soft target’. So, to avoid this daily obstacle-course of abuse, I gave up going to school. I intercepted school reports suggesting that I should ‘pop-in occasionally’ and forged my father’s signature on the related receipt slips. I left school not knowing how to construct a grammatical sentence but I could complete a form. So I joined the railway: a stable work environment from which I eventually did learn that grammar was not simply my mother’s mother!

Cab interior of Flying Scotsman
Author on the footplate of the famous Flying Scotsman locomotive, 2016.

My perspective of what a victim was changed over the succeeding 30 years. From having been a victim, I now witnessed victimisation. As a train driver I was involved in two suicides. At the subsequent inquests, I learned how these victims had been traumatised by the harshness of life until they could no longer cope. I had my apology ready for the parents of one victim, a 15-year old girl. But they apologised to me first and I don’t know which of us cried the most. I recall that moment in detail, notwithstanding that it was 25 years ago.

Working in public transportation, you observe a range of human behaviours at all times of day or night; from altruism to unbelievable cruelty. Some of these acts were latterly to become termed as hate crimes: some perpetrated on minorities; on rival football fans; on disabled people. Of this final category, I once witnessed a man in a wheelchair being pushed on to the electrified track by a group of youths. I turned the power off and, with others, got him to safety. He was scared, shaking, crying and inconsolable: this was to become another haunting memory. Latterly, I managed railway operations and became a consultant to the industry. Understanding the difficulties faced by disabled customers was one facet of my work. I started to comprehend the daily hostility faced by some on our services. After leaving the industry, I gained qualifications in Criminology and wanted to further explore disability hate crime (DHC) through postgraduate research. I found that although public transport is an established environment for triggering hate crimes that this was an under-researched subject.

I am now performing that research. To date, I have spoken with 62 victims and witnesses, via interview and focus group mediation. There have been times when they have shared sketches of human behaviour at its worst. Their honesty in sharing this is humbling. Victims have recounted appalling remarks regarding their impairments, disclosed psychologically hurtful strategies and physical violence. All this targeted against people who already feel physically weakened, frightened and isolated. Already physically drained by having to propel a wheelchair and manoeuvring it onto a bus they then have to negotiate a safe location to park their ‘chairs. As if this were not enough, then they are further burdened with undeserved experiences of being told that you are an encumbrance on the state, that you will delay the bus and even that you stink. These are unwelcome additions to your journey from fellow passengers and additionally sometimes even from staff. During my research I heard from people who regularly suffer abuse that would stun most non-disabled people albeit if it only occurred rarely.

I came to experience people sharing their experiences through innovative techniques which I had not previously considered as customary methods of communication. Participants pointing at imagined abusers to illustrate their experiences, or drawing diagrams of where their abuser stood on the bus, or seeing people use video to explain their abuse because they had no other way of imparting it. Being involved in the dynamic of a focus group where two or three people relate their experiences through the tears of their pain and realising that you too are shedding tears, that you too are becoming a victim again through the sharing of their pain. Even though I did not directly experience their victimisation, it brought back recollections of previous encounters in my life from over fifty years ago, burned into my memory forever; sharing the horror of being victims together, although decades of difference divided our experiences.

On a lighter note, there was the wheelchair-bound victim who proudly wanted to give me a practical demonstration of when he confronted a young male abuser on a bus. This young man had refused to vacate the dedicated wheelchair space and then exhibited threatened violence against my participant. My contributor beckoned me closer to him and said: ‘I held him by the throat and told him what I thought of him’. To add realism to this demonstration he grasped me by the neck and had to be dissuaded from continuing with his resourceful demonstration. He then apologised profusely. Strange, that either emotionally, or physically, I was once again a victim of hate crime: even if only secondarily.

However the depth of my particular distress, it was nothing compared to that suffered by the participants to my study. Once I have completed the collation and analysis of data I will compare these experiences with the equality objectives and duty of care to safeguard all passengers which is incumbent upon regulatory authorities and public transport providers in the UK. My aspiration is to discover if any shortfalls of meeting statutory obligations are evident and, if so, does this increase the risk to potential victims of disability hate crime? If safeguards are not being applied to protect all passengers who use public transport, especially disabled people, then this will be communicated to the UK Department for Transport and key agencies within the public transport infrastructure. This is to provide a research-based incentive in the hope that vulnerable customers will be looked after and also encouraged to use public transport; sometimes the only method of independence to which they have access.

I began this blog by asking how lucky was I to have been a victim of abuse. I finish by discovering that no experience, no matter how distressing, is unique in this world. Someone, somewhere, will have endured it as well. In this criminological exploration of human experience, being able to share experiential knowledge of victimisation has been helpful to both the participants and to the researcher.

 

Contact

David Wilkin Postgraduate Researcher,

Centre for Hate Studies: Department of Criminology, University of Leicester.

Email: drw24@leicester.ac.uk

Twitter: @DavidRWilkin

Website:

https://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/criminology/people/phd/david-wilkin

 

Copyright free images: from author

Crime and ASB victimisation on Social Renters

A TseloniAndromachi Tseloni leads the Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU. Her research revolves around risk and protective factors of (repeat) crime victimisation, perceived crime risk and disorder, and the role of security and routine activities in the crime drop.

 

Rich Pickford takes the lead on facilitating RPickfordconnections between researchers, communities, business and citizens and maximising the impact of Nottingham Civic Exchange’s work.

 

 

Social renting households experience the highest levels of crime victimisation by housing tenure types according to research based on national crime statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales. At a period of sustained reduction in crime it is imperative to recognise and seek solutions for groups who have not benefited from this crime drop.

Nottingham Trent University’s Quantitative and Spatial Criminology (QSC) Research Group has done in-depth research in this area. This article will highlight research and recommendations related to Social Renters with a particular focus on:

  • Household Crime
  • Personal Crime
  • Witnessing or Experiencing Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB)

Extensive analysis of various years of crime survey data (from 1990s through to 2014) undertaken by the first author highlights that social renters experienced between double and 10 times the national average household crimes depending on their area of residence and year of victimisation (Tseloni et al. 2004; Tseloni 2006). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • 70% more household thefts;
  • 40% more criminal damage (Osborn and Tseloni 1998);
  • 50% more burglaries including attempts (Hunter and Tseloni 2016); and
  • roughly 40% more burglaries and household thefts.

Crucially social renters’ relative burglary risk has tripled compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (Tseloni and Thompson forthcoming).

The QSC’s research and testing in Nottingham shows that deploying the WIDE combination of household security has the biggest impact. WIDE stands for Windows that lock with a key, Internal lights on timer, Door double or dead locks, and External lights on a sensor. Homes in England and Wales with this combination are 49 times safer from burglary with entry than those without any security devices (Tseloni et al. 2017). The moderate cost of this combination makes it an attractive prevention tool that can be widely deployed. Further research shows it is also the most cost effective & environmentally friendly system of burglary prevention (Skudder et al. 2017). By contrast alarms on average moderately increase the risk of burglary (Tilley et al. 2015).

We recommend that social renter providers deploy the WIDE principles across their housing stock, and be prudent on relying on burglar alarms to prevent burglaries.

WIDE

Window locks, Internal lights, Door double or dead locks, External lights.

Social renters experience 40% more personal crimes within their neighbourhood (within a 15’ walk from home) than owner occupiers regardless of where their neighbourhood is situated (Tseloni and Pease 2015). Specifically in relation to owner occupiers social renters on average suffer:

  • an increased number of thefts from person and robberies (Thompson 2014);
  • 85% higher odds of assault in the night-time economy (Garius 2016); and
  • nearly double number of violence incidents perpetrated by acquaintances, that is people they know just to speak to casually / just by sight, neighbours, workmates / work colleagues, clients / members of public contacted through work, friends / acquaintances, or local children (Tseloni 2016).

Also social renters’ relative risk of violence by acquaintances has moderately increased compared to owner occupiers over the period of the crime drop (ibid).

This research highlights the increased risks faced by social renters. The QSC research has informed engagement and awareness campaigns and we are happy to talk further about this work. It has nudged the Office for National Statistics to provide the online individual victimisation predictor tool (Pease and Tseloni 2014). It can help national and local crime prevention agencies and crime and safety partnerships to understand their area risk profile for a variety of crime types and target messaging to support clients (Hunter et al, 2018; Hunter 2017). These research findings could be used to lobby government and local policy makers to ensure resources are allocated to this pressing issue.

Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a term that includes a wide and diverse mix of ‘social disorders or incivilities’ which can range from harassment and intimidating behaviour to dangerous or inconsiderate vehicle driving. The Crime Survey for England and Wales identifies 13 types of ASB whereas the police classifies reported ASB into three possible but not mutually exclusive categories: personal, nuisance and environmental.

Social renters have in comparison to owner occupiers higher odds of experiencing or witnessing ASB by roughly:

  • 30% with regards to criminal ASB (this includes criminal damage / graffiti, harassment / intimidation, others using / dealing drugs, dangerous dogs, and indecent sexual acts);
  • 20% with regards to inconsiderate social ASB (this includes inconsiderate behaviour, loud music / noise, litter / dog fouling, nuisance neighbours, and begging / vagrancy / homeless);
  • 40% with regards to vehicle related ASB; and
  • 20% with regards to ASB from groups hanging about (Ward et al. 2017).

These figures have highlighted a real need to further understand this issue.  The QSC team are currently undertaking further research on ASB.  If you wish to be kept informed of this research please contact the research lead, Dr. Becky Thompson, at rebecca.thompson02@ntu.ac.uk.

We hope our research is used as justification and evidence to stakeholders and partners to tackle traditional volume crimes and ASB by directing scarce crime prevention resources towards target hardening social renting households and their physical environments.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at Nottingham Trent University is continuing to develop research in this area.  We are keen to work with crime prevention agencies to make society a safer place by developing collaborative work. Further research is currently being developed on similar issues, including, for example, investigating the place and community cohesion effects on crime rates and perceived victimisation risk.

If you are interested in hearing more about this research or some of our previous studies highlighted here on burglary and violence we welcome your contact. Our work is always undertaken with partners tackling issues outside of academia and we value the opportunity to test and develop our research in this way to ensure it has non-academic use and value.

The Quantitative and Spatial Criminology Research Group at NTU has vast expertise in producing internationally leading research often in collaboration with crime prevention agencies that informs public protection policies. Our aim is to develop a better understanding of the factors that shape victimisation across different crime types and ASB in order to inform crime reduction and public reassurance initiatives. The group has extensive expertise in Public Protection informing research, in particular identifying population groups and areas vulnerable to crime and ASB, effective and efficient crime prevention initiatives and their evaluation.

 Academic References

Garius, L.L. (2016) Opportunities for physical assault in the night-time economy in England and Wales, 1981-2011/12. PhD Thesis, Loughborough University.

Hunter, J. (2017) “Helping police forces to engage with their local communities: A bespoke Community Engagement Area Classification at the LSOA level across the East Midlands.” Report to the College of Policing.

Hunter, J., Garius, L., Hamilton, P. and Wahidin, A. (2018) Who steals from shops, and why?, in V. Ceccato and R. Armitage (eds.) International Perspectives on Retail Crime. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan (in print).

Hunter, J. and Tseloni, A. (2016) Equity, justice and the crime drop: The case of burglary in England and Wales. Crime Science. 5(3). DOI10.1186/s40163-016-0051-z Open Access.

Osborn, D.R. and Tseloni, A. (1998) The distribution of household property crimes. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 14, 307-330.

Pease, K. and Tseloni, A. (2014) Using modelling to predict and prevent victimisation. Springer-Brief Criminology Series, New York: Springer. ISBN: 978-3-319-03184-2 (Print) 978-3-319-03185-9 (Online).

Skudder, H., Brunton-Smith, I., Tseloni, A., McInnes, A., Cole, J., Thompson, R. and Druckman, A. (2017) Can Burglary Prevention be Low Carbon and Effective? Investigating the environmental performance of burglary prevention measures. Security Journal. DOI: 10.1057/s41284-017-0091-4 Open Access.

Thompson, R. (2014) Understanding Theft from the Person and Robbery of Personal Property Victimisation Trends in England and Wales, 1994-2010/11. PhD Thesis, Nottingham Trent University. ​

Tilley, N., Thompson, R., Farrell, G., Grove, L. and Tseloni, A. (2015) Do burglar alarms increase burglary risk? A counter-intuitive finding and possible explanations. Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 17(1), 1-19 DOI:  https://doi.org/10.1057/cpcs.2014.17 Open Access.

Tseloni, A. (2006) Multilevel modelling of the number of property crimes: Household and area effects. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society Series A-Statistics in Society, 169, Part 2, 205-233.

Tseloni (2016) “Stranger and acquaintance violence in England and Wales: Trends, equity and threats.” Crime Surveys Users Meeting, Royal Statistical Society, London. 9 December 2016. Also see: http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/ project/178996/overview/violence_trends).

Tseloni, A. and Pease, K. (2015) Area and individual differences in personal crime victimisation incidence: The role of individual, lifestyle /routine activities and contextual predictors. International Review of Victimology, 21(1), 3-29.

Tseloni, A. and Thompson, R. (forthcoming) Highly targeted population groups lacking adequate burglary security over time, in A. Tseloni, R. Thompson and N. Tilley (eds.) Household Burglary and Security. Springer. See also http://www.ntu.ac.uk/apps/research/groups/4/home.aspx/project/178965/overview/burglary_security).

Tseloni, A., Thompson, R., Grove, L., Tilley, N. and Farrell, G. (2017) The effectiveness of burglary security devices. Security Journal, 30(2), 646-664. DOI: 10.1057/sj.2014.30 Open Access.

Tseloni, A., Wittebrood, K., Farrell, G. and Pease K. (2004) Burglary victimisation in the U.S., England and Wales, and the Netherlands: Cross-national comparison of routine activity patterns. British Journal of Criminology, 44, 66-91.

Ward, B., Thompson, R. and Tseloni, A. (2017) “Understanding Anti-Social Behaviour.” Report to the College of Policing.

Contact

Andromachi Tseloni, Professor of Quantitative Criminology, School of Social Sciences,  andromachi.tseloni@ntu.ac.uk

Rich Pickford, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Officer, Nottingham Civic Exchange, richard.pickford@ntu.ac.uk | @NottsCivicEx | http://bit.ly/2qhBfB8

Copyright free images: from author and https://pixabay.com/

Recent Travels in a Trump Gun culture

BSC President Peter Squires discuses a recent trip to the US

PeterSquiresProfessor Peter Squires is the President of the British Society of Criminology and Professor of Criminology at the University of Brighton.

 

We had touched down in Las Vegas just twelve days after what had been the USA’s most deadly mass shooting during which 58 people were killed (plus the shooter) and 546 injured.  This was the USA’s 338th mass shooting  – defined by the FBI as incidents involving four or more gunshot casualties, not including the perpetrator, in 2017 [https://www.massshootingtracker.org/data].  Five days later we were in Tombstone, Arizona, waiting for the first of a three-times daily re-run of the infamous ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral‘ to begin.

It was 87 degrees Fahrenheit and a pale dry sun was beating down.  The audience benches in a back yard just off Tombstone’s main thoroughfare, Fremont Street, were uncomfortably hot to the touch. But right on cue, ‘Doc Holliday’ swaggered out of the saloon and began to narrate the story of a thirty-second gunfight which has been the subject of 47 separate movies.  A story which has dramatically shaped the history of ‘The Wild West’ (Guinn, 2011), laying important foundations for the region’s gun tourism industry.  After the gunfight, visitors could even have their photographs taken with Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday. I’m not so sure it was a good idea.

GunTourismPictures 3 and 4:  Yours truly with the ‘Earps’ and ‘Doc Holliday’, Kathy with ‘Tom McLaury’ looking mightily healthy for someone who had just been shot and killed

We were in the USA to attend a Gun Studies Symposium, scheduled many months earlier, hosted by the University of Arizona, in Tucson. Turning the visit into a week-long immersion in the vagaries of the US ‘gun culture’ was too good an opportunity to miss.  The increasing political tension concerning the issue, followed a sequence of increasingly lethal mass shootings, but the Trump administration was taking a distinctly ‘hands off’ approach.  The White House displayed a marked preference for seeing mass shootings as if they were random natural tragedies or the simple result of ‘evil’.  In either case there was a marked reluctance to address the gun question.

Personal tragedies and public issues

Route 91 in Las Vegas was still closed on our arrival, crime tape fluttered in the breeze, as crime scene examiners continued to work.   Up the road a huge tribute of flowers and white crosses honoured those killed.  Across Las Vegas electronic billboards paid tribute to the victims and heroic first responders.  But on the TV news different stories began to surface.  Even as the names of dead and injured began to filter out, and the first funerals were held, the repercussions of the incident continued to be felt.  Personal tragedies pointed to public issues, although no-one seemed any wiser as to the shooter’s motives.

Las Vegas TV news prominently featured Tina Strong, who had been shot through the head, in the process losing an eye.  She awoke from a coma while we were in the city, some two weeks after the shooting. Because she had insufficient health insurance (it may not be the first thing one thinks of in the context of gun victimisation – but pretty vital, nonetheless), friends and family had fundraised to provide the $50,000 needed for her care and convalescence.  Within days, however, half a million dollars had flooded in.

Las Vegas may have responded admirably to one tragedy, but it seemed quite incapable of grasping others.  The city which promotes the high-rolling, casino culture, lifestyle also has in excess of six thousand homeless people, the highest rate of homelessness in US cities.  Its roads are also notoriously dangerous, during the three days we stayed in the city, Clark County, chalked up its 58th pedestrian killed on the roads.  As many deaths as the Route 91 shooting, but with remarkably less media attention and still two more months of the year yet to run.

In the wake of the shooting, Nevada Democrats published gun control bills to outlaw the so called ‘bump-stock’ devices (used by the shooter to convert 12 of his military assault rifles to fully automatic – machine gun – firing) and limit ammunition magazines to ten rounds. [https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/democratic-lawmakers-introduce-bill-draft-to-ban-bump-stocks-used-in-mass-shooting-on-strip ] However, their other proposals to extend firearm purchase background checks foundered upon a disagreement with the FBI, with the federal agency refusing to underwrite the cost of performing the state level checks.

bumpstock

Both Nevada and Arizona feature amongst the most deregulated states as far as the seven most common state-level gun control measures (assault weapon restrictions, prohibition of large capacity magazines, armour piercing bullets and silencers, firearm registration systems, gun purchaser waiting periods, expanded background checks, and the licensing of firearm dealers) are concerned.  Nevada prohibits armour piercing ammunition and, consistent with the increasing polarisation of the gun debate (Democrat states introducing more controls and Republican states deregulating), Arizona recently disbanded its system of firearm sales background checks.  Furthermore county authorities are not allowed, under state law, to impose their own systems of localised background checks. [https://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/jan/15/gun-laws-united-states]

‘Open defence’ carriage of firearms is permitted in public areas although many Arizona hotels and private businesses appear to prohibit firearms on the premises. In similar fashion, the University of Arizona vetoed an attempt to allow firearms carriage on campus, thereby failing to join ten other ‘campus carry’ states.  As in thirteen other states, guns on Arizona university campuses must remain locked within vehicles.

Symposium

For these reasons, a gun studies conference in Arizona made a lot of sense, given added poignancy by the terrible events a few hours’ drive to the North. Yet this was to be a gun conference with a difference.

In marked contrast to the largely stalemated political debate on guns in the USA, which Professor Robert Spitzer, one of the USA’s leading political scientist commentators, famously characterised as ‘elephantine political forces’ battling over ‘policy mice’ (Spitzer, 1995, p.181),  the Arizona ‘gun studies symposium’ was approached through the lens of inter-disciplinary social science.  Sociologists, lawyers, historians, cultural theorists, marketing analysts, ethnographers, criminologists, political scientists and public health analysts combining their insights to throw more light, rather than heat, on the gun question.  The questions were not those which have most typically animated public discussion of guns in the USA, such as: What does the 2nd Amendment really mean? Does increasing firearm prevalence exacerbate or diminish crime and violence? And, finally, which gun control measures actually work?

Emerging issues in Gun Studies

Instead, the symposium sought to explore the nature of ‘gun culture’; what firearm ownership means to individuals, communities and societies; what are the symbolic significances of guns and gun laws, and gun ownership and social identity.  The symposium was organised into four distinct sessions: guns and violence; guns, identity and intimacy; guns and governance, and guns and markets.

The first discussions centred upon research conducted in Los Angeles exploring the ways in which formerly legal firearms ‘slipped’ into illegality and came to be used in criminal violence.  A number of issues surfaced including: irresponsible firearms dealers, ‘straw purchases’ (people buying guns for someone else), secondary sales and transfers, theft of firearms and ‘time to crime’.   No particular methods of illegal transit stood out, illegal gun markets appeared to be very localised with some handguns having a very short time between point of sale and first criminal misuse.  The findings were broadly taken to endorse existing community level interventions to tackle illegal firearm transfers.  [https://www.rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR512.html]

A second theme concerned the somewhat overlooked issue of firearms and suicide.  There are roughly twice as many gun suicides in the USA as homicides, in this respect alone, the USA gun suicide pattern resembles that of European societies, however there are an enormous 20,000 firearm suicides each year in the USA.  Much debate surrounds the degree to which the suicide rate is exacerbated by the scale of private gun ownership, around 53% of suicides involve firearms, with older white males running a disproportionately high risk. [https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/guns-suicide/]

In the remainder of the morning delegates heard a series of papers exploring issues of identity and meaning relating to gun ownership and use, one paper exploring the consequences of shootings for their victims.   Largely as a result of advances in emergency trauma care, most gunshot victims do not die as a result of their injuries, fully 80% survive, although victims’ lives are often dramatically transformed by the injuries they have received.  Extensive ethnographic research from a forthcoming book, Ricochet: Gun Violence and Trauma in Killadelphia reveals how most daily activities are complicated by firearm injury, posing continuing challenges to gunshot survivors.

In parallel fashion, a series of papers explored the emotional ties people might have with their firearms. In the first place, gun ownership tends to be concentrated within a demographic comprising white, middle aged, suburban and rural males often with a military background.  Viewed in this way, firearm ownership shares many characteristics of a cultural identity or social movement perspective.  [https://nyupress.org/books/9780814795507/]  Gun ownership becomes part of ordinary life. In a related sense, if firearm acquisition is predicated upon a sense of vulnerability or the perceived need for protection, the threat of losing one’s weapon is likely to pose an existential threat to the defence of the self, therefore gun control proposals are often fiercely resisted.

Firearm advocates typically refer to firearms as ‘tools’ and, as in the case of any tool, the purpose is to extend human capabilities. Others refer to firearms as a prosthesis, both extending human capacity, but also personal responsibility. It is worth noting that a majority of states have now permitted the concealed carry of personal firearms, augmented by ‘castle doctrine’ and  ‘stand your ground’ laws, whereby private citizens assume a de facto statutory responsibility to shoot to kill to protect.

Recent Hurricane and flooding disasters in Houston and Florida exposed the rather darker side of these laws, prompting suggestions that concealed carry permissions should be suspended during environmental crises. By contrast, gun advocates claim that, it is precisely at such moments, when the infrastructures of governance, especially policing, are under such pressure, that personal defence firearms become most necessary.  Apparently local media outlets were rife with stories of looting, violence and burglary from vacated properties, invariably the looters depicted were black.  [http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/852551/hurricane-Irma-Florida-Miami-looting-seige-Branson-Virgin-Islands-unrest ; http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4870676/Eight-looters-broke-Fort-Lauderdale-clothing-retailer.html]

The question of African American firearm ownership accents these issues especially in the wake of recent police involved shootings. Police have tended to perceive black gun possession as a potential threat, reacting accordingly. African American gun advocates remind us that some of the earliest gun control measures introduced in the USA were measures to disarm slaves and former slaves in the Southern states. Likewise cultural commentators demonstrate that the ‘gun debate’ still resounds to the intersectional politics of race, class and gender. [https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/546064/stand-your-ground-by-caroline-light/9780807064665/ ]

Selling guns

The final session of the symposium was devoted to the marketing of firearms.  Papers addressed different aspects of firearm marketing practice, the first reflecting upon the changing emphases of firearm advertising, revealing how since the 1960s gun marketing had increasingly focused upon firearms for self defence rather than target sports shooting or hunting.  The overwhelming frequency of self-defence gun advertising in the leading American Gun Magazine (The American Rifleman, published by the NRA), clearly evidences this cultural change.

Rifleman

A second marketing paper focused instead upon the way in which firearm advertising, first in the decade 1985-1995, and then again in the last ten years, has effectively ramped up the firepower available to American citizens.  In the first period, on the back of loss-leader sales of semi-automatic pistols to elite police and military units, firearm advertising in leading US gun magazines, effected a shift in customer purchasing.  Fully 75% of gun advertisements featured semi-automatic handguns, which were advertised for their calibre, concealability, stopping power, speed of use, and ‘intuitive pointability’. These were combat-ready guns for civilians.  In the most recent period, since 2005, and the lapsing of a federal ban on the sale of new assault rifles, these weapons now dominate the covers and advertising space in the magazines. They are also the weapons misused in the USA’s recent most lethal mass shooting atrocities (Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas and Texas).

Contrasting advertisements:  1985-1995/ 2005-2015:   ramping up civilian firepower

1985-1995 2005-date
 GunMag1  GunMag2

A final presentation sought to show how, in a search for new markets (the average US gun-owner already has seven firearms) the gun industry has been targeting its advertising at women and children.  Although the social research data does not bear out the claims frequently made [http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1557085115609416 ], women are seen as a lifeline for the gun industry – either as potential self defence firearm purchasers themselves, or as parents capable of normalising gun ownership amongst their children.  The gun industry has been producing a range of supposedly female and child oriented firearms and accessories.  The pink ‘Barbie’ assault rifle and the brassiere holster have attracted most media attention, but there are many varieties of product available, including a colourful selection of starter rifles for children.  [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/us/selling-a-new-generation-on-guns.html ]

Gunpink

Meanwhile, back in Tombstone where, in 1881, City Ordnance Number 9, was introduced to require cowboys intent on drinking and gambling to disarm and deposit their firearms when entering town. This sits uneasily with contemporary concealed carry deregulation, and the gun tourism souvenir merchandise to be found in neighbouring shops. Nevertheless, gendered stereotypes persist, the toy guns for sale came in familiar colours, outlaws carry black, lawmen (and Doc Holliday) silver, whereas cowgirls, it seems, pack pink.

Guns1

Since, the Las Vegas shooting, America’s most deadly, the USA has seen another 40 mass shooting incidents in just over a month, culminating in the Sutherland Springs, church shooting in Texas, where 27 died and over 20 were injured.  This time the perpetrator was in illegal possession of an assault rifle.  An armed citizen intervened, but only after the tragedy.  One of the ironies of these mass shootings and the FBI data upon which they are based, is that the iconic gunfight in Tombstone in 1881, which has epitomised the ‘Wild West’ for generations, would barely have made the FBI mass shootings list today: only three people were killed.

Professor Peter Squires is the President of the British Society of Criminology and Professor of Criminology at the University of Brighton.

Email p.a.squires@brighton.ac.uk
Twitter: https://twitter.com/PSqCriminology

Copyright free images from the author.