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Situational Contexts of Gun Use by Young Males in Inner Cities, Final Report

NCJ Number
Date Published
217 pages
This report of a 4-year study of gun violence among inner-city youths (The Columbia Youth Violence Study) reviews the lessons of the epidemic of youth gun violence in the late 1980's and early 1990's in terms of its impact on adolescent development and the role of aggression in everyday life.
The research applied the framework of "situated transactions" to explain the occurrence and outcomes of violent events that involve guns. Situational or transactional approaches view violent events as interactions that involve the confluence of motivations, perceptions, technology (weapons), the social control attributes of the immediate setting, and the ascribed meaning and status attached to the violent act. The preliminary phase of the research involved a pilot study of 125 young males from two New York City neighborhoods: East New York and the South Bronx. These neighborhoods were selected for their high rates of gun violence and their differences in the social and ethnic composition. This pilot study developed and refined the methods of recruitment, interviewing, and data analysis. In the full study, interviews were completed with 377 active gun offenders aged 16-24 from the same two neighborhoods. Data collection for the pilot study began in June 1994 and for the full project in September 1995. Data collection was completed in August 1998. The study concluded that adolescents in cities were possessing and carrying guns on a large scale. This is historically unique in the United States, with significant impacts on an entire generation of adolescents. The impacts were most seriously felt among African-American youths in the Nation's inner cities. Among youth in the inner cities, guns have become symbols of respect, power, and manhood in an emerging youth culture that has sustained a continuing demand for and supply of weapons, reciprocally increasing the overall level of gun possession and the desire to use guns. Beyond the direct increase in adolescent mortality, guns have an indirect influence on adolescent violence through their effects on socialization and development. The prevalence of violence in the immediate social contexts objectifies and symbolizes their perceptions of risk and danger in the most common activities of daily life. Because the epidemic of violence is actually a gun homicide epidemic, the case for gun-oriented policing strategies is much stronger than police practices based on the more diffuse and unsupported theory of disorder control and order-maintenance strategies. In addition to targeted law enforcement, the decline in gun homicides can also be attributed to the convergence of cyclical variation and social trends in risk and exposure. The strength and content of social norms are critical. The spread of social norms occurs through the daily interactions of individuals within networks that are structurally equivalent and closely packed. A focused strategy of dealing with problematic youth while reinforcing informal social control by institutions in local communities constitutes a balanced strategy for addressing youth gun violence. 166 references and extensive tabular data

Date Published: January 1, 2000