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Prospectus: Factors Associated with an Offender Using a Firearm during a Crime

 

Problem Statement

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (2012), there were 1,203,564 violent crimes in the U.S. in 2011.  According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR), violent crime is defined as one that involves force or threat of force and violent crimes are composed of four offenses:  murder and non-negligent manslaughter, robbery, forcible rape, and aggravated assault (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012). Violent crimes occurred at the rate of 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants and firearms were the most common weapons used during these crimes (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2012).  The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) (2011) has reported that offenders who reacted aggressively to encounters with law enforcement officers were more likely to use firearms than any other weapon.  The IACP (2011) has reported that between 2001 and 2010, firearms were used in 92 per cent of cases where the offender feloniously killed a law enforcement officer. According to the IACP (2011), 541 fatal incidences involving a police officer occurred for the period of ten years from 2000 to 2009, with the highest of these numbers being in 2001. Other weapons, such as vehicles used to ram and knives/cutting instruments, accounted for 6.65 per cent and .37 per cent respectively.

The ease with which an individual can access a firearm is considered to be a major problem that contributes to the rise of crime rates in the United States of America (IACP, 2011).  Different states in the U.S. have different laws that guide how firearms should be owned. The variety of state laws and lack of centralized federal guidelines have made it easy for most people to purchase a firearm.  While it is easy to purchase a gun, it is even easier to purchase a bladed weapon, as there are even fewer regulations on the sale of these weapons. This ease of access to weaponry makes it more likely that they should be used in the commission of crime. Given that firearms account for the highest percentage of weapons used in violent crimes, researching factors related to the use of firearms during crimes could help law enforcement officers anticipate which offenders in the community are more likely to carry a firearm and use it.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research is to examine demographic, psychosocial and legal factors that might be associated with an offender using a firearm during a crime.  The study focuses on firearms because they are the weapons most frequently used. Focusing on firearms as the weapon of choice is informed by the prevailing trends in which the majority of violent crimes and the fatalities of police officers are mainly propagated with firearms (FBI, 2012; IACP, 2011).

Existing studies have suggested that the potential of an offender to use a firearm can possibly be predicted through an analysis of relevant psycho-sociological and investigative variables (Bernburg, Krohn, & Rivera, 2006; Correll, Urland, & Ito, 2006; Soderstrom, Nilsson, Sjodin, Carlstedt, & Forsman, 2005).  Previous research has suggested psychosocial variables have included antisocial values and personality, criminal peers, dysfunctional families, low self-control, and mental instability with substance abuse. Other research has suggested that an offender has a greater likelihood to have suffered from psychopathic traits, likely rooted in childhood conduct disorders (Soderstrom, Nilsson, Sjodin, Carlstedt, & Forsman, 2005).  Social interactional variables, such as racial stereotyping, have been cited as possible predictors of an offender’s violent reactions (Correll, Urland, & Ito, 2006).  The offender’s prior contacts with deviant social networks have been associated with disposition for violent reactions (Bernburg, Krohn, & Rivera, 2006).  Mental health disorders have not been examined in any of these studies for association with an offender’s use of a firearm during a crime, but they may be relevant. In most states, purchasing a firearm is prohibited for those with a mental health history (Rose, 2014).

While the previous studies have suggested important variables that have been associated with firearm or other violent behavior, there has been no study to date that has used a police department database to examine factors that might be associated with an offender’s actual criminal behavior with a firearm. This proposed study addresses this gap in the research by using archived police department offender data to examine factors such as the following that might be associated with an offender’s use of a firearm during a crime:  age, gender, ethnicity, previously carrying a weapon, runaways, domestic abuse incidents, threats against others, threats or acts of self harm, fighting,  deviant peers, dysfunctional families, diagnosis of mental illness, inpatient at a psychiatric facility,  narcotics/substance abuse.

Significance

With the fatal or potentially fatal nature of crimes where the aggressor wilds a firearm and the fact that for the majority of such events, the possibility of an aggressor using a firearm can be predicted, this research seeks to determine the factors that can be used tell is the perpetrator of a crime carries a weapon. Through findings of the research will add to the body of information and further help in predicting the possibility of a criminal carrying a weapon in the event of committing a crime. In addition, the research will add to the literature available on the topic. Lastly, the successful completion of this research is an important requirement for the completion of my masters program.

Background

This section systematically reviews studies that have examined factors associated with firearm and other weapon use.

The Finigan-Carr, et al. (2015) qualitative study focused on youth in lower socio-economic neighborhoods and found that hanging out with deviant peers and being male were often associated with carrying and using weapons.

  1. In two consecutive studies, Kleider and Parrott (2009) and Kleider, Parrott and King (2009) examined situational factors and individual differences to identify aggressors’ predispositions to become violent shooters.
    1. Kleider and Parrott (2009) used psychology students in their study that simulated training of police recruits in order to identify possible variables associated with the role-played recruits’ use of aggression. Impulsivity was found to be associated with aggressive shooting.  The findings did not indicate that situational factors such as spending a childhood in a violent neighborhood were associated with aggression.
    2. In a study carried out by Kleider, Parrott and King (2009), the researchers interviewed 24 police officers from urban departments. This was done by the use of a qualitative study to examine the effects of factors such as situational contexts.  A good example is the officer’s ethnicity and features of the neighborhood and individual factors such as the officer’s emotions state when he or she is involved in an aggressive shooting.  The findings indicated that the officer’s lack of self-control played a bigger role than features of their immediate environment in determining whether the officer would shoot violently.
  2. Attacks on police officers have been attributed to general dislike of police by some groups with certain beliefs about racial tendencies. This dislike has been attributed to stereotypes, thus, and based on this understanding; some studies such as the Implicit Association Test (IAT) have argued that some races are more likely to be involved in crimes than others. In addition, police officers become violent with these races even without enough evidence to support provocation.  Payne (2006), in his study examined police officers in a simulated scenario and came to the conclusion that racial stereotyping could be a great contributor to the police shootings of unarmed black youth.  The officers are presented with photographs of suspects of different race who were either carrying or not carrying a gun in the picture.  Caucasian police officers were more likely to react faster to a depiction of an African American male carrying a gun as compared to males with other racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  3. In their study, Correll, Urland, and Ito (2006) found that the “psychological mechanisms” are responsible for the level of aggression exhibited and these (psychological mechanisms), are affected and thus determined by the prevailing factors, and one of these factors consists of feelings of being threatened. The researchers studied 40 participants who either “shot” or restrained themselves when the researchers presented them with rapidly shifting images of African American or Caucasian males carrying weapons.  The study confirmed the tendency of Caucasians to shoot aggressively when encountered with armed African Americans, but it also highlighted the role of the subjects’ psychological state when confronted by an unarmed target, especially when subject is psychologically impaired.
  4. Psychological/psychiatric disorders were central to the Du Toit and Duckitt (1990) and Soderstrom, Nilson, Sjodin, Carlstedt and Forsman (2005) studies that linked Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyper-activity disorder (ADHD) to aggressive behavior. Both studies argued that violent shootings might not be caused by social risk factors but due to neuropsychiatric disorders.  However, this is always not the case.  In this research, individuals with schizophrenia or ASD were no more likely to be violent than those without these disorders (Du Toit and Duckitt, 1990; Soderstrom et al., 2005).

Framework

This study will focus on the concept of anomie to explain how armed individuals are predisposed to aggression.  The term anomie refers to a person’s lack of typical social standards and ethics that are accepted by the society.  The Robert Merton theory of anomie posits that when individuals internalize a set of social aspirations but fail to attain the means to realize those goals, this can lead to the experience of anomie, and the individuals are likely to become deviants out of frustration or revolt (Featherstone & Deflem, 2003).  Merton’s theory suggests that aggravating social factors, such as poverty or marginalization, are likely to lead to anomie and perpetuate violent temperaments.  This theory has suggested that certain armed individuals’ proclivity for aggression indicates lower internalization of social norms.

Societal norms are benchmarks of how individuals should behave or react in given situations (Franzese, 2009).  Accordingly, when an individual’s behavior falls outside these norms, they are considered a social deviant.  Social norms encourage people to coexist peacefully, and they contribute to lower rates of violence.  Intentional cause of injury to another person is typically against social norms in many societies around the world.  For instance, firing a firearm at another person is an aggressive act that carries the intent to cause harm, and especially in cases where the person shot at is unarmed, then this simply and clearly goes against the social norm (Kleider & Parrott, 2009, p. 494).

Research Questions

  1. What are the relationships between the following offender psychosocial or legal factors with using a firearm during a crime:

– Previously carrying a weapon

– Runaways

– Domestic abuse incidents

– Threats against others

– Threats or acts of self harm

– Fighting

– Deviant peers

– Dysfunctional families

– Juvenile Justice involvement as a minor

– Diagnosis of mental illness

– Inpatient at psychiatric facility

– Narcotics/substance abuse

  1. What are the relationships between offender demographic factors such as age, gender, or ethnicity and using a firearm during a crime?

Nature of the Study

This study will employ quantitative research methods in exploring the research questions.  Quantitative research is a method of collecting data on variables that can be analyzed statistically.  The goal of this approach is to test hypotheses, gather information that can be measured, or examine relationships among variables (Bryman, 2006; Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011).  Quantitative methods tend to be deductive in drawing conclusions.  The quantitative correlational approach and regression model will be used in the study to evaluate the relationships among the variables listed in the research questions to determine if psychological, investigative, anti-social, and psychiatric factors are associated with an offender/ suspect who is carrying a firearm and uses the same in a violent crime. The reason for including a regression model is that it would enable in looking at several factors at once.

Types and Sources of Data

The primary data source of this study will be the accessible records found in the Police

Department (PD) archived database for an urban metropolis with a population of nearly one

million. The database contains the following types of data that have been reported about an

offender:

– Age

– Gender

– Ethnicity

– Previously carrying a weapon

– Runaways

– Domestic abuse incidents

– Threats against others

– Threats or acts of self harm

– Fighting

– Deviant peers

– Dysfunctional families

– Juvenile Justice involvement

– Diagnosis of mental illness

– Inpatient at psychiatric facility

– Narcotics/substance abuse

References

Bernburg, J. G., Krohn, M. D., & Rivera, C. J. (2006). Official labeling, criminal embeddedness, and subsequent delinquency: A longitudinal test of labeling theory. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 43(1), 67-88. doi:10.1177/0022427805280068

Bryman, A. (2006). Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: How is it done? Qualitative Research, 6, 97-113.

Correll, J., Urland, G. R., & Ito, T. A. (2006). Event-related potentials and the decision to shoot: The role of threat perception and cognitive control. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42(1), 120–128. doi:doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2005.02.006

Creswell, J. W., & Plano Clark, V. L. (2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Du Toit, L., & Duckitt, J. (1990). Psychological characteristics of over- and undercontrolled violent offenders. The Journal of Psychology, 124(2), 125-141.

Featherstone, R., & Deflem, M. (2003). Anomie and strain: Context and consequences of Merton’s two theories. Sociological Inquiry, 73(4), 471-489. doi:10.1111/1475-682X.00067

Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2012). Crime in the United States, 2011. Washington: U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/violent-crime/violentcrimemain_final.pdf

Finigan-Carr, N. M., Cheng, T. L., Gielen, A., Haynie, D. L., & Simons-Morton, B. (2015). Using the Theory of Planned Behavior to predict aggression and weapons carrying in urban African American early adolescent youth. Health Education & Behavior, 42(2), 220-230. doi:10.1177/1090198114548479

Franzese, R. J. (2009). The sociology of deviance: Differences, tradition, and stigma. Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher, Ltd.

International Association of Chiefs of Police. (2011). Law Enforcement Officers Killed by Felonious Assault in 2011. Quincy: National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police. Retrieved from http://www.theiacp.org/portals/0/pdfs/feloniousreport.pdf

Kleider, H. M., & Parrott, D. J. (2009). Aggressive shooting behavior: How working memory and threat influence shoot decisions. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(3), 494-497. doi:doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2008.12.007

Kleider, H. M., Parrott, D. J., & King, T. Z. (2009). Shooting behaviour: How working memory and negative emotionality influence police officer shoot decisions. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(5), 707-717. doi:doi:10.1002/acp.1580

Payne, B. K. (2006). Weapon bias: Split-second decisions and unintended stereotyping. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(6), 287-291. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00454.x

Rose, V. (2014). Mental Illness and Firearm Laws. Office of Legislative Research, 2014-R-0253

Soderstrom, H., Nilsson, T., Sjodin, A., Carlstedt, A., & Forsman, A. (2005). The childhood-onset neuropsychiatric background to adulthood psychopathic traits and personality disorders. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 46(2), 111-116. doi:doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2004.07.030


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