“Got the Hammer on Me”: The Socio-Cultural Roots of Gun Use in the United States

Overview

This study will interview 750 young people from Baltimore, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and New York City to gain a better understanding of why youth in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods get involved with guns.

Grant Amount: $1,670,000

Organization: Center for Court Innovation

Investigators: Elise White, deputy research director, Center for Court Innovation and Yasser Arafat Payne, associate professor, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware.

Expected Completion Date: Mid-2022

Project Summary

Purpose

Examine urban youth gun violence in the United States to answer three research questions:

  • What motivates young people’s acquisition and use of guns?
  • Which social and structural factors create or influence gun culture?
  • What individual and community characteristics could build resilience against and help stop gun use?

Approach

  • Combine respondent-driven sampling (RDS) and participatory action research (PAR) methods to conduct interviews in five large cities with high rates of gun violence: Baltimore, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and New York City.
  • In each city, interview a representative sample of 150 people ages 16 to 24 who are gun carriers or are at risk for gun violence, for a total sample size of 750.
  • Interview participants on a range of individual, situational, and contextual factors related to interviewees’ experiences, beliefs, and resilience strategies.
  • Collect information on demographics, perceptions of and attitudes toward guns, experience with guns, social networks, racial and ethnic implications, substance use, perception of and experience with the police and other city institutions, neighborhood characteristics, safety or danger, interpersonal and social trauma, and resilience and protective factors.
  • Use PAR methodology, which enlists neighborhood residents as community researchers working with study investigators, to help overcome young people’s potential unwillingness to participate in research.

Significance

Instead of focusing on the logistics of how young people acquire guns, this study will explore why they get guns and the social and cultural contexts in which they and their peers use guns. The findings from this study will help inform prevention initiatives that leverage existing cultural resilience strategies to address the underlying drivers of gun violence in these and similar communities.

Investigators

  • Elise White is the deputy research director of the Center for Court Innovation. Dr. White’s work focuses on qualitative research and ethnography with hard-to-reach populations, exploring their experiences with interpersonal and social trauma, methods of resistance and resilience, and the relationship of these to the criminal justice system. She is also the principal investigator on a study funded by the National Institute of Justice of illegal young gun carriers in New York City. Dr. White has worked on criminal justice reform issues for more than 15 years.
  • Yasser Arafat Payne is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware. A social-personality psychologist, Dr. Payne conducts street ethnographic research that examines notions of resilience and resiliency using a methodological framework that involves members of street-identified populations in research activism projects. His research program focuses on racial-ethnic notions of street identity, physical violence, educational and employment inequality, policing and reentry, and gangster rap music and culture.