In The News: Anthropologists, Criminologists (and some others) on the Newtown Shootings

I still haven’t found much of a voice or aptitude for addressing current events in a timeframe that seems relevant, so like the Trayvon Martin incident, I feel like this blog post is a bit “late to the game” and with less than I’d like to offer. This is of course made more difficult by the fact that research on gun violence has been blocked in the U.S. along multiple lines for some time.

Despite these impediments, there have been several serious attempts to gain an understanding of the role of guns and gun accessibility on mass shootings:

  • In the “perfect timing” category, the journal Crime, Media & Society‘s December 2012 issue features an article on school shootings in the U.S., dissecting the claim that they can be attributed to representations of violence in the media. The author concludes that “The risk approach allows us to understand school shooting events as the end result of a series of interrelated social, cultural, and political processes. The point at which these factors intersect tends to produce the conditions under which school shooters may emerge.”
  • Only slightly less recent, by academic standards (2009), is a special issue of the journal Criminology and Criminal Justice on Guns, Violence and Social Order
  • Conversely, Policing has a special issue on “The Use of Force” focusing on police use of firearms.
  • The Monkey Cage blog has a useful breakdown on the Graduate School of International Studies’ report known as the Small Arms Survey. Highlights include that, according to their survey, only 3% of the world’d small arms are in the hands of law enforcement. How’s that for the monopoly on the use of force?

In addition to these, several anthropologists have weighed in on the events:


In a case of social media worlds colliding, I was interpolated on Facebook to try and help explain the paradox that the most fervent supporters of mass gun ownership seem also to be the ones most paranoid about big government… isn’t a school where even the teachers are armed exactly a police state?  Here is my (slightly edited) response:

The best explanation I know of this (to me, very American) story is Jonthan Simon’s Governing Through Crime, which argues that “governance” has been reduced so that metaphors of crime & crime control are the only idiom through which to talk about these issues… So instead of talking about regulation of any sort, or social services, or any number of solutions, the only problem can be bad guys/criminals and the only solution can be to “protect” us from them through the use of force.

…As for the “the solution is just to arm everyone” argument: to me, this is the opposite of a police state, in that it’s the opposite of police (defined as a group of experts charged with the right to perform legitimate violence over a given territory)… Or maybe it’s police without a state, or vice-versa?

I agree,though, that at bottom this about some version of The good. It seems that what’s at stake in gun ownership in the US is, however a very specific version: exclusive (so, some must a priori be cast out) individualistic (so, not conceivable social terms) and attainable through the appropriate consumption of commodities (so, the solution is always more or better things).  The similarity between this and Weber’s Protestant Ethic should not be overlooked…


2 thoughts on “In The News: Anthropologists, Criminologists (and some others) on the Newtown Shootings

  1. Pingback: Gun Violence Anthropology: The AAA and the NRA | Anthropology Report

  2. Pingback: Topics – Class Topics – | Anthropology of the U.S. Society

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