Crime exists in nearly every society, but Americans consider crime to be among the most serious social problems in the United States. In 2013, there were 367 violent crimes per 100,000 people and among those crimes, 4.5 were either murders or homicides (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). It is a known fact that several demographic factors, such as gender, race, or socioeconomic status, can influence crime rates among certain populations, but these factors fail to explain why people actually commit crimes. Sociologists have proposed several theoretical approaches to explain why some people become criminals while others do not. Taking these theories into consideration, we are able to discuss the gun control controversy, one of the most heated debates in America at this time.
First, there is the conflict theory, which claims that inequalities of wealth, status, and power produce criminal behaviors. Minorities in a society are likely disadvantaged or experiencing discrimination, so they rebel against their situation through crime. However, according to the textbook, current research suggests that crime is distributed among all of the social classes, unlike previous research that stated people of lower economic status were more likely to commit crime (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). The reason behind this newer research is that although prosecution takes place in lower-class areas, it could be because people have limited access to legal help, which is not usually the case for people of a higher class.
It is interesting to note that the United States has one of the largest gaps between the rich and the poor in its population in terms of economic equality, which suggests that people may use violence as a way to release their frustrations (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). Economic status is not the only way one can be disadvantaged in a society, as there are differences in crime rates among racial and ethnic groups in any society. In the United States in particular, blacks are overrepresented in crime statistics, which could potentially be due to police keeping a closer eye on this minority group (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). Blacks are far more likely to be in a lower class, and as mentioned before, the lower class is associated with higher crime rates.
The second theory, the anomie theory, stems from the functionalist perspective. Anomie, as defined by the textbook, is the feeling of being adrift that arises from the disparity between goals and means (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). In relation to crime, societies have approved goals and approved ways of attaining them, so if one is not able attain those goals, he or she may try to reach them in ways that are socially unacceptable, resulting in criminal behavior. Anomie occurs in groups that have the fewest opportunities in obtaining a good education or well-paying jobs, a characteristic once again of minority groups (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). The theory is that if goals were more attainable for ones in lower socioeconomic statuses, there would be less anomie, and therefore less crime.
The interactionist approach poses two theories that describe crime as a result of people internalizing the norms that encourage criminality. The first of these theories is the differential association theory, which suggests that criminal behavior is a result of learning the techniques and motives of criminal behavior from small groups, such as family, friends, or neighborhood peers (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). For example, persons who live in an environment where there is more crime are likely to internalize those values and become criminals themselves. The other theory is the subcultural approach, which is when people form a delinquent subculture with standards that are reachable because they are unable to compete in the middle-class world. These subcultures can result from less ambition, self-discipline, or academic skills, which are virtues heavily present in the middle class. According to Albert Cohen, who was mentioned in the textbook, people in these subcultures consider things to be “right” simply because they are considered “wrong” by the larger culture (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017).
One of the most potent controversies in the United States right now is gun control and how it relates to violence. There are two sides to this debate: on one side, people are calling for stricter federal laws on the purchase and sale of firearms, and on the other side, people believe that Americans have the right to own guns and the government should not be allowed to stop them. This debate has become heated in the recent decades because, as mentioned before, the murder rate in 2013 was 4.5 per 100,000 people and murderers are five times more likely to kill someone with a knife than a gun (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017).
Many of the sociological theories of crime discussed earlier are very applicable to the gun control controversy. Someone who is pro-gun control may believe that creating more laws would be an effective way in reducing violence. As it relates to the conflict theory, that is a true statement. As written by Gary Kleck, laws are used by conflicting social groups to gain power over the other group (Kleck, 1996). On the other side, according to an article found in the Journal of Sociological Perspectives, gun owners are more likely to be white, male, protestant and from small towns in the south where the southern subculture promotes violent attitudes and behavior (Celinska, 2007). This subculture behavior stems from the concept of individualism, meaning that people use guns as defensive weapons because they don’t trust the security they have in the larger, collective society. In addition, contemporary anomie theorists have concluded that the anomic conditions in America are indeed related to the high rate of gun ownership and gun violence. They claim that the cause of these anomic conditions stem from excessive individualism that is present in America (Celinska, 2007).
Several theories on why people commit crime have developed from the three main sociological perspectives: conflict, functionalist, and interactionalist. The conflict theory states that crime is a form of rebellion by members of disadvantaged groups, such as low socioeconomic class, or racial and ethnic minorities. The anomie theory from the functionalist perspective claims that criminal behavior happens when people are unable to reach the socially approved goals so they develop socially unacceptable ways of attaining them. Lastly, the interactionalist approach explains crime as a process of internalizing interactions within social groups that encourage criminal behavior (Kornblum, Seccombe & Julian, 2017). All Americans are concerned about crime, but over the past couple of decades, there has been a growing fixation on the gun control policies in the United States. Many of the sociological perspectives discussed can help explain why people are either pro-gun control or anti-gun control. Whether one believes there should be greater law enforcement or one believes Americans have a right to own guns, at the end of the day, we are all just fighting for greater power over one another.
- Celinska, K. (2007). Individualism and Collectivism in America: The Case of Gun Ownership and Attitudes Toward Gun Control. Sociological Perspectives, 50(2), 229-247. doi:10.1525/sop.2007.50.2.229
- Kleck, G. (1996). Crime, Culture Conflict and the Sources of Support for Gun Control: A Multilevel Application of the General Social Surveys. American Behavioral Scientist, 39(4), 387–404. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764296039004004
- Kornblum, W., Seccombe, K., & Julian, J. (2017). Social Problems(15th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.