Gun Control Attitudes and the Criminal Justice Student: Do Differences Exist?

Article excerpt

This study examined 254 students attitudes towards gun control. Of central concern was whether criminal justice students attitudes were different from other students attending a medium-sized southern university. Findings show criminal justice majors are more opposed to gun control measures than non-criminal justice measures. As well, results show gender and racial differences in attitudes to this controversial issue. Implications for research on students' attitudes about gun control and ways to educators could use these findings in the classroom are provided.


Educators undoubtedly recognize how often controversial issues come up in criminal justice course lectures and discussions. Such issues often lead to volatile discussions on topics such as abortion, capital punishment, free-will, gun control, and so on. At times, differences in opinions between students enrolled in the criminal justice courses provide for interesting intellectual discourses. At other times it seems that most of the criminal justice students' opinions reflect those of a broader and generally more conservative society, which may conflict with the beliefs and values of the educator (in which case the instructor is viewed as the outsider responsible for all of societies' ills). Differences in values, however, are often assumed. Yet, as Emmons and Nutt point out, the undergraduate "curricula offers fertile but largely neglected opportunities to study values" (1995, p. 147). Using this "fertile" area, this research investigates whether criminal justice students' attitudes (i.e. values) are different from non-criminal justice students on one issue: gun control.

Generally, recent polls show that the public is in favor of stricter gun control laws (Moore & Newport, 1994; PR Newswire, 2000). While the public as a whole supports stricter gun control laws, differences in attitudes concerning gun control have been noted. For instance, past research indicates that differences in attitudes towards gun control exist on several overlapping levels including region of country, gentler, race, urbanization, familiarity with guns, and weapons training classes. Mom specifically, research indicates the following regarding gun control:

* There are regional differences with Southerners more prone to opposing gun control than individuals from other regions of the country, although some evidence suggests that the regional differences are exaggerated (Brennan, Lizzotte, & McDowall, 1993; Livingston & Lee, 1992; Mauder, 1990; Moore & Newport, 1994; Mundt, 1990).

* Males are more likely to oppose gun control than females are (Ellison, 1991; Kauder, 1993; Livingston & Lee, 1992; Marciniak & Loftin, 1991; Moore & Newport, 1994; Tyler & Lavrakas, 1983; Webster, Gainer & Champion, 1993).

* Whites are more likely to oppose gun control efforts than are blacks (McClain, 1983; Secret & Johnson, 1989).

* Those who live in urban counties are more likely to support gun control efforts than those who live in rural counties (Boor & Blair, 1990; Kauder, 1994; Price, Desmond, & Smith, 1991).

* Those who are familiar with guns are more likely to oppose gun control than those who are not familiar with guns (Ellison, 1991; Hill, Howell, & Driver, 1985; Lizotte, Tesoriero, Thornberry, & Krohn, 1994; Rosen, 2000; Tyler & Lavrakas, 1983).

* Those who have head weapons safety classes are more opposed to gun control than those who have not (Livingston & Lee, 1992).

Building on past research, this research, in part, also investigates the role that race, gender, and community play in the forming of gun control attitudes. Of central concern in this research, however, was whether criminal justice majors have different attitudes towards gun control than non-criminal justice majors. The research questions framing this analysis were: 1. …