Do Guns Matter? A Multi-Level Cross-National Examination of Gun Availability on Assault and Robbery Victimization

By Altheimer, Irshad | Western Criminology Review, December 2008 | Go to article overview
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Do Guns Matter? A Multi-Level Cross-National Examination of Gun Availability on Assault and Robbery Victimization


Altheimer, Irshad, Western Criminology Review


Abstract. This study examines the relationship between city levels of gun availability and individual assault and robbery victimization. Existing theoretical approaches to guns and crime are integrated with opportunity theory to provide a richer understanding of the dynamic between guns and crime. Data for this analysis are drawn from a sample of 45,913 individuals nested in 39 cities in developing nations. Results of a multi-level, cross-national examination using hierarchical linear modeling indicate that city levels of gun availability influence individual odds of gun crime victimization, but not individual odds of overall crime victimization. This suggests that individuals who live in cities with high levels of gun availability have higher odds of being the victim of gun assault or gun robbery than individuals who live in cities with low levels of gun availability. The results, however, find little support for the proposition that city-level gun availability interacts with individual behavior to influence individual odds of assault or robbery victimization.

Keywords: guns; violence; gun crime; opportunity theory, cross-national

Introduction

The relationship between gun availability and crime is an intensely debated topic. Competing perspectives have emerged that view guns as a cause of crime, a mechanism to reduce crime, or unrelated to crime. As a result, no consensus has materialized on this issue. The existing literature on this issue has yielded contradictory findings (Centerwall, 1991; Cook, 1987; Cook and Ludwig, 2006; Hemenway, 2004; Hoskin, 2001; Kleck, 1979; Kleck, 1984; Kleck and Patterson, 1993; Krug, K. E. Powell, and Dahlberg, 1998; Magaddino and Medoff, 1984; McDowall, 1986; McDowall, 1991; Miller, Azrael, and Hemenway 2002b; Sloan et al., 1988; Sorenson and Berk, 2001; Stolzenberg and D'Alessio, 2000). Further complicating this issue is the fact that the extent and nature of gun effects likely varies across types of crime. Research in this area has also been hampered by data limitations and methodological constraints. As a result, many questions concerning the relationship between gun availability and crime have gone unanswered.

This study aims to address three questions concerning the relationship between gun availability and two particular types of crime, assault and robbery, that have not yet been explored. First, to what extent does gun availability operate at the macro-level (specifically, in cities) to influence individual assault and robbery victimization? Existing macro-level studies have focused on the net effects of levels of gun availability on rates of crime (Hemenway, 2004; Hoskin, 2001; Kleck, 1979; Krug, Powell, and Dahlberg, 1998; McDowall, 1991; Miller, Azrael, and Hemenway, 2002a; Sloan et al., 1988; Sorenson and Berk, 2001). Significant results from these studies imply that individuals living in areas with high levels of gun availability will have a higher risk of violent gun crime victimization. This is because a larger number of residents are likely to be armed in cities with high levels of gun availability than in cities with lower levels of gun availability. Despite this assumption, the failure to explicitly examine the effects of gun availability on individual victimization raises the question of whether gun availability influences individual victimization after controlling for individual behavior. One reason for the dearth of gun research examining this issue is the fact that multi-level theoretical explanations of the relationship between gun availability and individual victimization have not yet been developed. It is proposed here that the foundation for such research has been laid by previous studies that have examined the contextual factors that influence individual victimization (Garafolo, 1987; Lee, 2000; Meithe and McDowall, 1993; Sampson and Wooldredge, 1987; Smith and Jarjoura, 1989). In an attempt to increase criminological understanding of how gun availability influences individual victimization, this study integrates existing theory on guns and crime with opportunity theory (Cohen and Felson, 1979; Hindelang, Gottfredson, and Garafolo, 1978)

Second, do city rates of gun availability interact with individual risk factors to influence individual assault and robbery victimization?

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