Why: The tempting reasons

Two university professors say firearm use is prevalent among criminals because of the efficiency they provide and the status they are associated with.

Dr. Claudio Colaguori, a sociology professor who lectures at York University and the University of Toronto, says guns are “a corporate product,” that’s sold on a mass scale south of the border and thus readily available.

And in order to understand why guns are attractive one must look at the larger picture, he says, pointing to the sub-cultures of gangs who use guns as a way of maintaining power.

“They don’t have access to legitimate means of goal attainment in society because they don’t have jobs and education, generally speaking,” Colaguori says. “They must resort to illegitimate means of survival, which is crime.

“Guns allow them to utilize force to do that.”

Colaguori says he doesn’t believe poverty plays a role in the acquisition and use of firearms.

“There’s a danger in trying to link up poverty with violence because it ends up criminalizing the poor,” Colaguori says.

“Actually crimes that are committed by working class and poor people do far less harm to society than the crimes of the powerful and the rich.”

He also says we must not only associate guns with the status of criminal gangs because guns are celebrated in other aspects of our society as well.

“We get upset when gang members use guns, but then we go to the movies on Saturday night and the same forms of activity entertain us.”

Dr. David Nussbaum, who specializes in forensic psychology at the U. of T., says gang members using guns are more prone to violence, more impulsive, and have lower levels of empathy than the average citizen.

“They attract people who are prone to these characteristics, and then once they’re there, the group actually fosters a complete disregard and disrespect for societal norms,” Nussbaum says.

“So you have a strong social influence on a particularly susceptible group of people. It’s the interaction between the social milieu and the individual vulnerability.”

Compared to knives, guns are a much more efficient type of weapon, he says.

“Most people are more concerned with survival than being fair in a life or death context,” Nussbaum says.

As far as innocent bystanders as concerned, Colaguori believes criminals don’t care who they happen to shoot because of desensitization.

“They’re not out to kill innocent people. They’re out to seek retaliation on their rivals, and if people get in the way then so be it,” Colaguori says.

“They just see that as part of their life, and they don’t have the same moral compass that an average person would have because they live in a world that is very, very different.”

Nussbaum says deaths involving innocent civilians, such as Jane Creba (killed the crossfire of a gang shootout on Boxing Day 2005), are inducing fear because gang warfare isn’t being restricted to an isolated area.

“I don’t think it’s simply the guns that are getting people upset because criminals have always used guns, but it’s the way the younger generation of criminals have a complete lack of disregard for anything, and certainly no fear of repercussion,” says Nussbaum, adding he believes the worst that will happen to a juvenile criminal is a maximum of 10 years spent in prison.

Although Nussbaum and Colaguori both believe public concern is a direct result of gun crime, the former says he wouldn’t go so far as to say that people are living in fear.

“I don’t get up in the morning and peak out my door before I get into my car to see if there’s anyone with a gun out there,” Nussbaum says.

“Let’s say living in fear is on a continuum, where zero means somebody is afraid of absolutely nothing, and 100 means they are afraid of anything they see. I don’t think people are at 80 or 90 because of this, but they may have gone from say 10 to 15 or 10 to 20 because of this.”

Colaguori says fear is a key element in the whole series of events leading to criminal conviction, trials, and public panic over crime.

“Compared to 30 years ago, we’re living in a society that’s much more fearful,” Colaguori says.