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Risk Factors Associated with a Potential Firearm-possessing Aggressor

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 one that involves force or threat of force and violent crimes are composed of four offences; 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. The highest of these numbers was in 2001, and over the years, there has been a decline with 2010 recording 70 incidences that involved the killing f a police officer. 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.  Different states in the U.S. have different laws that guide how firearms should be owned.  Only six of the USA states require people to apply for a permit before purchasing a firearm for their own use while in 37 states, people have the freedom of owning firearms according to their liking (The Guardian, 2013). For the rest, permits to purchase a firearm depend on the type of firearm, with majority requiring a permit for handguns and no permit to purchase a long gun. In addition, of the six that require a permit to purchase a firearm, three of them don’t have a firm arm registration requirement (The Guardian, 2013). This patchwork of state laws regarding gun ownership is a problem since firearms can easily be transferred from one state to another by simply driving them across the state line.  Therefore, it has become difficult to control the access to these firearms by the public.  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 firearms accounts for the highest percentage of weapons used in violent crimes, addressing issues surroundings the use of firearms could help bring down instances of violent crime committed by aggressors bearing a firearm. This paper therefore seeks to contribute towards the literature by examining and determining the risk factors associated with and that have the potential to drive one to commit a violent crime.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this research is to examine the factors that might predict when a firearm will or will not be used during the commission of a violent crime.  The study focuses on firearms because they are the weapons most frequently used, but other types of weapons will also be considered. 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 react violently using 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 the psychosocial variables include antisocial values and personality, criminal peers, dysfunctional families, low self-control, and mental instability with substance abuse. Literature suggests that potential aggressor has 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 aggressor’s violent reactions (Correll, Urland, & Ito, 2006).  The aggressor’s prior contacts with deviant social networks have been associated with disposition for violent reactions (Bernburg, Krohn, & Rivera, 2006).  Because of these known factors, it can be important to regulate which individuals are permitted to purchase, own, and carry weapons.

There are various regulations that govern the carrying of firearms, with the aim being to reduce the injuries caused by people owning or carrying weapons. State law on access to and ownership of guns for example, in the state of Iowa, Connecticut, and Hawaii require that anyone seeking to purchase or own a firearm should be of normal mental status. For example, Rose (2014) states that both federal and Connecticut State law prohibit people with psychiatric disabilities from owning, buying, or accessing firearms in whichever way. In the report, Rose (2014) argues that the reason behind this prohibition is such people are a danger to themselves and others and they lack the required mental capability for the contraction and management of their own affairs, including handling a firearm. It is thus evident that, metal instability is a predisposing factor in the reckless use of a firearm, which can result to a violent crime. It can therefore be clearly argued that, and as argued by Rose (2014), those who have had past mental problems should be denied the access to such weapons.  This is to ensure that the weapon is correctly used by the owner.  Any cases of previous mental breakdown should be are seriously considered and a psychiatric report issued for prospective firearm owners.  However, in the illegal accession and attainment of a firearm, or in states where permit for ownership of a firearm is not required, this factor is not considered and anyone can access and acquire a firearm as long as they can afford to pay for them.

Background

This section systematically reviews studies that have examined factors associated with armed offenders: persons having firearms and or any other weapon.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 an interview carried out by Kleider, Parrott and King (2009) in a study, they interviewed twenty-four 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.
  3. Attacks on police officers have been attributed to general dislike of police by some groups that tend to cut along racial lines. This means that, the mere fact that an individual doesn’t like the police is one of the potential reasons for shooting a police officer. 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.  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.
  4. In their study, Correll, Urland, and Ito (2006) found that the “psychological mechanisms” of an individual’s are responsible for the level of aggression exhibited and these (psychological mechanisms), are affected and thus determined by the prevailing factors, one of these factors being the feeling of being threatened. They 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.
  5. 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 other incidences, individuals with schizophrenia or ASD are no more likely to be violent than are their non-affected peers (Du Toit and Duckitt, 1990; Soderstrom et al., 2005) and thus it is proper to consider this factors while evaluating a situation.

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).  Sociologists rely on a collection of social deviance theories to explain the predisposition of individuals to act in a socially offensive manner (Featherstone & Deflem, 2003).  These theories incorporate the concepts of anomie, self-control, differential association, and labeling as the major possible contributors of deviance.

The theory of differential associations is based on the argument that, all behavior is learned and thus, deviant behavior is also learned. This theory focuses on key variables involved in learning; age of the ‘learner’, intensity of contact with the ‘teacher’, and the proportions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ social contacts in the life of the ‘learner’ (Featherstone & Deflem, 2003). Self control theory on the other hand takes a different perspective compared to the other theories and seeks to determine why most people are not involved in deviance, other than why does someone commit deviance? (Featherstone & Deflem, 2003) The answer to this question is that, for the majority, they are bound by social factors in culture that shape an individual against deviance. These social factors are attachment, commitment, involvement, and belief.

Anomie is the other theory and it explains deviance as being the result of the social strains caused by the manner in which the society is structured. As a result of these strains, some become overwhelmed and thus result to deviant behavior to manage the strains. Lastly in this paper is labeling theory. This theory argues that deviance is a social process in which some people are simply defined by others as being defiant. In the social setting, this defining is done by a person with social power for example, law enforcers, social service agents, and mental health practitioners and the definition is done to member of the society with no power or low ranking in terms of authority in the particular area, for example, mental health status, and observance of the law (Featherstone & Deflem, 2003).

Research Questions

The primary research question for this paper is;

  1. Do psychosocial factors predict the potential for a firearm-bearing individual to commit a violent crime?

To answer the above question more precisely, specific questions are also to be determined;

  1. Does medical mental related factors predict propensity of a firearm-bearing individual to commit a violent crime?
  2. Do antisocial factors predict the potential for an individual to commit a violent crime using a firearm?
  • Do investigative factors for example, defiant peers, dysfunctional families, and low self esteem, predict the likelihood of a person committing a violent crime using a firearm?
  1. Do demographic factors like age, gender, and ethnicity determine the possibility of an individual carrying a firearm?

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.  It will also help in making assumptions as well as generalization for other related populations.

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. For the purpose of this research, the data collected will be analyzed for violent crime in general. Then narrow down to those violent crimes where the perpetrator was a carrying and used a firearm. Then of those violent crimes where the perpetrator/suspect used a firearm, analyze his/her psychosocial status. For this phase of the study, data will be collected from the local hospital where victims suspected to be mentally unstable are referred (it is a common practice to have a police department work with a particular healthcare facility for the health needs of suspects in case the department doesn’t have an internal health facility). Due to the complications that may arise in the process of acquiring this data, the researcher will seek the assistance of the school department though a recommendation and ethics certified letter. The health records will help build a psychosocial profile of the victims as to identify the possible factors within the range of this study that might predisposing to commit the violent crime.

For the purpose of analyzing the data through the method discussed above, the data for all violent crimes will be used. This means that, even crimes that qualify into the violent crimes category and the perpetrator/suspect didn’t use a firearm and those that the suspect/perpetrators used a firearm. The data will be restricted to timelines, for example, for the past ten years, but this will be determined based on the quality of data.

The database contains the following types of data that have been reported about an offender that will assess all the four research questions:

  1. Data for Psychological factors
  2. a) Committed to psychiatric facility
  3. b) Psychiatric medications
  4. Data for anti-social factors
  5. a) Domestic abuse involving family
  6. Data for investigative factors
  7. Narcotics
  8. History of run away
  9. Accessibility to weapons/armed with a weapon
  10. Threats against themselves/others (includes suicide attempts)
  11. History of fights
  12. Data for medical factors
  13. Diagnosis of mentally ill

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