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Weapons Effects and Individual Intent To Do Harm: Influences on the Escalation of Violence

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 40 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2002 Pages: 265-296
Date Published
May 2002
32 pages

This article explores the relationship between weapon selection and attack lethality with respect to gun use also known as the "weapon instrumentality effect."


The study data included interviews with over 704 offenders regarding violent and potentially violent events experienced by the offenders. The researchers developed information on interaction type, weapon choice, and intent to do harm. Respondents were asked to recall incidents when they had avoided violence and incidents when they had perpetrated or experienced violence. As memory played a substantial role in data reliability, information regarding memory and memory reliability was presented. Prior research by Kleck and McElrath (1991) on weapon instrumentality effect was discussed. However, the authors’ data concerning weapons effect on likelihood of attack were opposite of the findings of the earlier researchers. The current study indicated that presence of a gun or knife made an attack more likely, not less likely. The authors caution that the ability to assess the weapon instrumentality effect of guns was complicated by the factors that influenced weapon choice. Specifically, individuals wishing to do the greatest harm may have an increased propensity to selecting a firearm as their weapon of choice. The authors’ analysis also provides independent effects that differ across the stages of an incident. 4 tables, 5 notes, 40 references, appendix

Date Published: May 1, 2002