Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Reflexive Retaliation for Violent Victimization: The Effect of Social Distance on Weapon Lethality

Academic journal article Violence and Victims

Reflexive Retaliation for Violent Victimization: The Effect of Social Distance on Weapon Lethality

Article excerpt

During the course of being victimized, why do people sometimes fight back with their fists; in other cases, with a knife or blunt object; and at other times, with a firearm? One theory is that the weapons involved in self-defense, also known as reflexive retaliation, become less lethal as offenders and victims become more intimate and alike culturally. Using National Crime Victimization Survey data, we test hypotheses derived from this theory and primarily find support. This article concludes by discussing implications for future work.

Keywords: victimization; retaliation; NCVS; weapon lethality; pure sociology

During violent offenses, victims can respond in different ways (Black, 1998; Cooney, 2009; Phillips, 2003; Phillips & Cooney, 2005). They may cry out for help; try to escape; resist, capture, scare, warn, or appease the offender; or simply do nothing and cooperate. The most aggressive response is self-defense through physical force. This is known as reflexive retaliation (Jacobs & Wright, 2006).

Retaliators use weapons of varying lethality (Black, 2004a). Tools of violence such as guns, knives, clubs, and fists differ in their potential to cause bodily harm. All weapons have a measure of lethality, which is the amount of physical damage that results from a single application (Black, 2004a; Rennison, Jacques, & Berg, 2011).

This raises the question, "What theoretical factors explain weapon lethality across acts of reflexive retaliation?" For example, what influences whether an immediate aggressive response against victimization involves a gun, a knife or an object, or no weapon at all? Black (2004a) suggests one explanation: The more intimate and culturally similar are the offender and victim, the less lethal the weapon used in retaliation.

In this article, we test hypotheses derived from Black's (2004a) theory using National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data. To conduct this inquiry, the remainder of this article is organized in the following manner. First, we situate our research in its conceptual and theoretical context. This is followed by a description of this investigation's method. Finally, we present and discuss our results, including their implications for future work.


Reflexive Retaliation and Weapon Lethality

Social control is a response to a deviant behavior (Black, 1998). There are several forms of social control. One is retaliation-a unilateral response to wrongdoing (Black, 1998). It may involve violence, fraud, theft, or vandalism (Jacques, 2010). This study focuses on violent retaliation, meaning the threat or use of physical force (Black, 2004a).

Reflexive retaliation refers to "face-to-face retribution exacted immediately" (Jacobs & Wright, 2006, p. 47). It is a "knee-jerk response to the perceived violation, something inextricably tied to the offending moment" (Jacobs & Wright, 2006, p. 47). The defining feature of reflexive retaliation is that it occurs as the initial act of wrongdoing unfolds rather than being delayed.

Instances of reflexive retaliation differ in several ways. Some are motivated by revenge, whereas others by self-protection. The accompanying emotion can be anger of fear. It might be deemed criminal or lawful self-defense. The seriousness of injury incurred by the punished person ranges from nothing to death. Cases also vary in the lethality of involved weapons.

Weapon lethality is an object's potential to inflict bodily harm (Black, 2004a). More specifically, the potential lethality of a weapon increases as it causes more (a) injury, such as bruising compared to death; (b) per application, such as a single gunshot or punch; or (c) to a particular body part, be it the head, heart, or anywhere else (Rennison et al., 2011).1 As an example, typically, a gunshot is more damaging than a knife stab, which is more traumatizing than being hit with a blunt object.

The Perspective of Pure Sociology

This research tests a theory of weapon lethality nested in the perspective known as pure sociology. …

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