Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

A Tribute to a View I Have Opposed

Academic journal article Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology

A Tribute to a View I Have Opposed

Article excerpt

I am as strong a gun-control advocate as can be found among the criminologists in this country. If I were Mustapha Mond of Brave New World, I would eliminate all guns from the civilian population and maybe even from the police. I hate guns--ugly, nasty instruments designed to kill people.

My reading of the articles in this Symposium has been enlightening even though I have been reading research on guns and violence for over a quarter of a century, ever since the Eisenhower Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, when I enlisted Franklin Zimring to be a Task Force director of Volume Seven, "Firearms and Violence in American Life."

I have found Alfred Blumstein's paper thoroughly useful in many ways. He has done us a service in bringing together the variables of youth, drugs and guns in a way no one else has provided. He deserves the applause of our community of scholars. I also commend Philip Cook, Stephanie Molliconi and Thomas Cole for a thorough study about regulating gun markets. Their policy claims are most realistic. As a gun-control advocate, I am pleased to add their research to my advocacy.

What troubles me is the article by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. The reason I am troubled is that they have provided an almost clearcut case of methodologically sound research in support of something I have theoretically opposed for years, namely, the use of a gun in defense against a criminal perpetrator. Maybe Franklin Zimring and Philip Cook can help me find fault with the Kleck and Gertz research, but for now, I have to admit my admiration for the care and caution expressed in this article and this research.

Can it be true that about two million instances occur each year in which a gun was used as a defensive measure against crime? It is hard to believe. Yet, it is hard to challenge the data collected. We do not have contrary evidence. The National Crime Victim Survey does not directly contravene this latest survey, nor do the Mauser and Hart studies. There is a research literature on robbery that focuses some on victims and on the three major variables with which I dealt: (1) intimidation or threats; (2) victim response, including resistance; (3) degrees of victim injury. Normandeau's(1) study in Philadelphia, the works of Conklin,(2) Skogan,(3) Hindelang,(4) and Cook(5) have dealt with intimidation and the presence of weapons. Amir,(6) Chappel and James,(7) Brodsky(8) and Marques(9) have dealt with rape and victim resistance, as have Conklin and Block(10) and Hindelang(11) for robbery. My reference to these authors and their works is meant to convey not only their visibility but also the pioneer quality of their contributions to victimology.

From the 1958 Philadelphia birth cohort study, we located 1027 offenses classified as robbery. It is this subset of all face-to-face offenses that I wish to summarize here. Of these 1,027 robberies, 82% (842) involved a stranger relationship between victim and offender, not an unexpected proportion for this kind of crime. The interactions in which the victim was not a stranger to the offender were rarely among intimates such as friends or acquaintances, and none of these reported robberies involved family members.

Not all of the 1,027 offenses classified as robberies were completed acts; that is, 258, or one quarter, are listed as attempted, or incompleted acts of robbery. An incompleted robbery is one in which face-to-face confrontation occurred, one in which there was at least one form of intimidation, and maybe even an interaction in which the victim was injured, but no money or other property was stolen. In short, the theft was thwarted for one reason or another.

We hypothesized that if a victim resists in some manner, there may be a greater likelihood of an uncompleted robbery. We had enough cases of resistance to permit us to test this hypothesis, for in 404, or 40% of the offenses, some kind of victim resistance was present. …

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