Today NPR’s Morning Edition covered the gun divide among law enforcement – and my new research on police attitudes on guns. Check it out here.
Only 1,590 police officers are left in the city of Detroit, representing a 37% drop in just the last three years. Even though the population of Detroit has dwindled alongside the police, officers must still patrol a vast area – 143 square miles. Plans are in the works to move officers in administrative positions back onto the streets for patrol.
July 9: Around 10:30 am, Michael Joseph Brown demands that the mother of his son turn over his five-year-old son; the woman, his son, and another man are sitting in a vehicle when Brown opens fire, injuring the mother and the man in front of his son. They drive themselves to a police precinct; Brown is charged the following day.
July 9: At least one man is injured in a shooting on the west side around 2 am; he was in a car with other men when someone opened fire. His condition is unknown.
July 9: MyFoxDetroit reports on a woman whose house has been burglarized twice in as many weeks; after her dog was stolen, burglars returned to steal her gun and other items. The woman says of her dog: “It’s just me and my girls. That was our boy, that was our protector.”
July 6: Twenty-one-year-old Devin Guidry is taking a walk along Van Dyke near Outer Drive around 9:30. He is reportedly approached by a group of people, one of whom shoots to death in the back of the head; the killer takes his flip-flops and glasses.
July 5: A Lapeer woman’s pit bull is shot as part of an ongoing dispute between neighbors.
While some violent crime rates may be dipping, that may not matter as long as homicide rates keep surging. Year-to-date Detroit homicides are now up by 15%. Charlie LeDuff summarizes: “Detroit’s a rough city, the most violent according to the FBI, but even by that low standard, this is a very bad stretch.” It doesn’t help that starting wage for DPD officers is just $14 – and that’s down from $15 a few years ago.
July 3: A man finishes a drug deal at a gas station, and then is pursued by police. He flashes a gun; police fire several shots, wounding him in the buttocks.
July 2: A 25-year-old father of two is shot and killed on the West side in an altercation that erupted over a game of dice.
July 2: Denzel Lee Talbert, a 22-year-old Detroiter, is charged and arraigned in the Greektown shooting that occurred on June 21st.
July 2: A Circle K clerk is held up at gunpoint in Dearborn; the location has been the target of several armed robberies in the last few months.
July 1: Around 5:15, Grosse Pointe Police receive a call about a gunman who had killed someone and was barricaded in the house. Police monitor the house for hours before realizing that it is a hoax.
June 30: A 58-year-old woman on the east side gets into a “shoot out” with a home invader; she opened fire as soon as she realizes the suspect is armed. She is shot in the hand; the suspect flees.
June 29: Three DTE Energy crews are robbed at gunpoint in Detroit and Southfield (two Monday, one Sunday) after a storm knocks out power for 50,000 people in Wayne County alone. DTE Energy is offering a $2,500 reward for tips.
It was “broken record” week in Detroit, double entendre intended: 27 people shot in one weekend (the city averages 17.6 nonfatal shootings and 5.2 homicides a week). Chief James Craig pleaded with residents to provide tips and then came under fire for labeling shooters as “urban terrorists.” On a (figuratively) lighter note, police used Chips Ahoy, hostess cupcakes and eventually a cleverly constructed ramp to rescue a 500-pound pig from a Detroit basement.
Never duplicated, never exhaustive: here’s your weekly gun report.
June 26: Four people are shot at a block party in Detroit, where about 100 people were in attendance.
June 26: Two men and one woman are found dead from gunshot wounds in a Detroit apartment. Neighbors heard gunshots the night before but didn’t call police because “they didn’t see anything.” DPD stresses the importance of calling police when gunshots are heard: “I know people are desensitized to gunshots, but when they hear them, call. We need to get there.”
June 24: A high-speed police chase and subsequent crash kills two children on the sidewalk. The suspects were being chased on suspcious of possessing illegal concealed weapons.
June 22: A mile east of the Detroit fireworks display, a 37-year-old man is shot to death after a verbal altercation.
June 22: Darwin Harris, Jr., a 19-year-old DJ, is shot to death in the Barrel & Bottle party story at 7:30 pm. He usually spent time hanging out at the party store; a man opened the door and fired shots at him.
June 22: A string of early-morning armed carjackings occur on I-96 targeting people going to work. In one incident, the suspects brake in front of a car, compel the driver to pass on the left; the suspects then ram the car into the divider, hold up the driver at gunpoint and steal the car.
June 21: A 19-year-old boy is shot to death in Greektown close to midnight; a 21-year-old is also wounded with non-life threatening injuries.
June 21: A boy turns himself in after shooting a 14-year-old girl in the mouth in Pontiac; they were left unattended with the firearm, and he thought it was unloaded.
June 21: A fight breaks out between dog owners on Detroit’s Eastside; a mother and her two-year-old child – both bystanders – are shot in the legs.
June 21: An employee at Pete’s Grill and Coney shoots and kills an armed robber, who was “waving the gun back and forth” at the roughly twenty patrons in the restaurant at the time.
June 20: Twelve people are shot in a block party with around 300 people, including children, at 8:30 pm. One victim, 19-year-old Malik Jones, dies of gunshot wounds. He was shot previously that month but did not go to police with details; the gunman is believed to be the same. Jones allegedly threw the party to celebrate the neighborhood’s “no snitch” policy.
June 20: A man is assaulted by four men and shot while walking along 8 Mile at Wyoming. The fourth man, apparently a bystander getting gas at the Mobile nearby, joins in the assault as it progresses.
June 19: A 40-year-old woman is shot in the leg during a fight in Canton.
June 19: A 23-year-old man is found shot to death in his Redford driveway; the shooting is believed to have occurred the night before.
A new study finds that nationwide, 1 in 4 kids have been directly exposed to weapons violence. This number now includes the 9-year-old who watched his father shot to death last week in Detroit while waiting in a Wendy’s drive-thru and the 5-year-old in Charleston who was told to “play dead” to survive the heinous shooting during a Thursday night bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Here are the Detroit-area guns that made the news last week. Remember, this is never exhaustive: in Detroit, there have been on average 2.4 shootings a day in 2015. The city finishes up the first six months of the year with a homicide rate somewhat elevated – by 6% – as compared to last year’s.
June 17: A 14-year-old is charged in the shooting of his mother the week before.
June 16: Father and veteran DeAngelo Turner is shot to death inside a gas station on the Westside around 3 pm. His mother describes him as a “Christmas miracle”; family and friends search for the killer.
June 16: A man is found shot to death inside a parked van on a residential street near Hubbell and Fenkell on the Westside.
June 16: A disabled man named Clarence Cody is shot in the back of the head and killed. Unable to walk, Cody spent his days sitting in the same spot on Pinecrest Drive and came to be known as the “Mayor of Pinecrest.” He leaves behind an 18-year-old daughter and baby boy due in a month.
June 16: At 1:30 am a 22-year-old woman is shot in the leg while walking home. A passerby found her on the ground bleeding. Police are unsure of the circumstances; it does not appear to be a drive-by shooting.
June 12: A 29-year-old man is shot and killed while sitting in his SUV on Crescent Street in Detroit, holding a neighbor’s infant in his arms. Another neighbor fires at the suspect before he flees; it is unknown whether the suspect is wounded.
June 12: A Westland man is charged in the murder of Christopher Reed, a man in his late 20s who was killed while waiting in the drive-thru at Wendy’s with his two sons. One son was injured but survived.
On June 1, 2015, the Detroit One “violence reduction” partnership unveiled a new initiative to “double down” on gun violence by raising awareness about penalties for illegal gun possession in Detroit. This is their second time around with public awareness campaigns; last year, they focused on carjackings and produced these PSAs that, frankly, seemed straight of the 80s. The partnership claims their approach works: carjackings dropped by 32%. Now, they want to take on gun violence.
Here are some of the Detroit (and Detroit-area) guns that made the news over the last week. On average, 2.4 shootings are reported to police in Detroit per day. This list is therefore not exhaustive.
June 12: Martin Zale, shooter in the “Road Rage Incident” in Livingston county is sentenced to 25 to 50 years in prison for second-degree murder.
June 11: A 14-year-old boy on the Westside shoots and wounds his mother during an argument. She recovers in the hospital from “serious” injuries; he is arrested the next morning unarmed.
June 10: A 13-year-old is shot in the leg after getting caught up in the cross-fire of two cars, wondering “I’m a good kid. I never did anything to anybody.”
June 9: Dietta Gueye, survivor of cancer and now two home invasions, opens fire on five burglars attempting to enter her home at 2:37 am. They flee after firing one shot into her leg. She explains, “I hope they take this as a lesson…Beware, you never know if someone you are trying to hurt is packing.”
June 9: Ivan Berrien of Detroit is sentenced to life in prison on child abuse and gun charges. He left a 13-year-old girl unsupervised with a rifle; she fatally shot herself in the head.
June 8: A 27-year-old woman opens fire on an armed carjacker on the Westside just blocks from the 6th Precinct station, hitting him in the wrist as he flees.
June 7: A Detroit police officer exchanges gun fire with an unknown gunman. Officer is shot in the foot; an 18-year-old bystander is shot in the chin. No arrests have been made, and DPD is “vague” about whether the officer shot himself.
June 7: A father and son waiting in the Wendy’s drive thru line are shot when two armed men approached their car and demanded money; the father was killed, and the son survived a shot in the hand. It appears that the father was armed but complied with the demands of the gunmen to hand over money.
I’m interviewing police for my new research on “gun policy on the ground.” It looks at the frontline workers – from bureaucrats to police chiefs – who are charged with implementing US gun policy. I didn’t think it was possible that I could enjoy a project as much as I enjoyed my work on gun carriers, but I was wrong — I’ve already learned a great dealing talking to cops, and what I’ve enjoyed the most is the ability of police officers to move effortlessly between slogans and story-telling. In my interviews, the heightened wits and unexpected twists of police work meet the poetic simplicity with which police and other frontline workers approach and understand their work. This is a short-but-growing list of some of these sayings:
* “A Happy Wife is a Happy Life.” (Officer counseling someone who was coming to gun board to get his gun license reinstated after his PPO had expired)
* “You have one foot in jail, one foot out.” (Rookie officer, talking about current public attitudes about public law enforcement)
* “Don’t assume anything until you see the palms of both hands.” (Retired officer, talking about his experiences with gun violence over decades of service)
* “You can’t arrest your way out of a problem.” (Voiced by officers of all rank)
* “The only bad arrest is no arrest.” (Officer commenting on domestic violence arrests)
More to come…
I grew up in a very conservative, Midwestern family, and I work in a pretty liberal profession. Add to that — I research an extremely controversial topic: gun politics and wrote a book about it called Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. Precisely because people disagree so vehemently about guns in this country, I see the best thing I can do as a sociologist is to bridge that gap and help people try to see things from other people’s perspectives – and because I chose to study gun carriers rather than gun rights activists, that often means getting the anti-gun left to better understand pro-gun America.
So, despite this being one of the most divisive issues in American politics, I have strained over and over to avoid playing into the stereotypes about gun carriers – both who they are and why they carry. It is for this reason that one of the major points in my book is that the “white male gun carrier” stereotype grossly distorts gun-carrying America — in Michigan, African Americans and whites are licensed to carry at roughly equal rates. As a scholar, it is my responsibility to present a sober view, when asked by the media, of who pro-gun America really is, as I have done with the BBC, the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere. That’s not to say I am not critical where it is deserved – but my goal isn’t to slander. It’s to understand.
My latest piece from the LATimes, however, has sparked a much-unanticipated reaction. Both sides – pro-gun and anti-gun – seem to think that my argument boils down to some Freudian psychobabble about men’s “inadequacies” (think: #tinypenis). While I understand that people were primed by an unfortunate title (one that I did not choose – and would not have chosen), the reaction to this piece tells me that neither side is very interested in much other than rehashing the same old vitriol about guns. Nowhere do I say that men are “overcompensating” or even “compensating” by carrying guns, or that a small paycheck equals a big gun. Men do not carry guns once their incomes hit a certain point and they think “oh gee, better get my license now!” That’s a total simplification of what I was trying to say here (but one that apparently everyone is reading into this piece — live and learn in terms of making my points clearer, which is on me). It is exactly the kind of idiotic explanations of gun culture that I went into this project trying to dispel by looking at the moral politics of rights and duties, and of policing and protection, within gun culture and how they intersect with race and gender in expected and unexpected ways.
My goal with this piece was to talk about the biggest demographic of gun carriers – men. While the number of women are going up (and I’ve written about them here), men still outnumber women (last I checked, 4 to 1 among Michigan CPL holders). This op-ed gives one reason why men in Michigan may carry guns, and my point is this: there’s been a collapse in the American dream – and yes, that collapse has been felt more by men because they have been hit the hardest by the economic collapse. But its far beyond just income – or just crime. It’s about believing in the promise of upward mobility, of having faith that your neighborhoods are safe and that your neighbors will help you out if you need it, and all the other kinds of things often associated with “Mayberry America.” I spoke to over five dozen gun carriers, and in virtually all of my conversations with men, responsibility and duty to family was a huge factor shaping why they found it important to carry guns, across the board, regardless of race or other background. And yes, I found that socioeconomic insecurity framed how men talked about their turn to guns – especially if they lived in Detroit or Flint or their outskirts. You can read all about it in my book.
I’m utterly confused why it is a problem to point out that we are in economically dire straights, that fewer Americans identify as middle class – and that this is connected to the appeal of guns. That’s not to say that people can’t own or carry guns for other reasons (obviously they do), but when someone is on the fence, seeing the American dream slip from their reach, seeing their community crumble around them, seeing police defunded, seeing the cracks in the sidewalk get bigger and bigger, seeing crime persist – all of this can have an impact on how secure people feel in their communities and how appealing carrying a gun might be.
When I was doing this research as a graduate student at Berkeley, I was frustrated over and over by two things – and I continue to be frustrated by them. First, that people with little knowledge of guns, gun culture or gun laws often pontificate about armed America, which is why I did the project the way I did (carried a gun, became a certified instructor, and learned as much as I could about all aspects of gun carry culture) and continue to educate myself. Second, that people totally gloss over the inequalities in security (from education to healthcare to police to income – all valid sources of insecurity in my book) that Americans face. Translating what I saw in Metro Detroit to Berkeley (and to sociologists in general) meant explaining this broader context – and explaining that not everyone can ‘buy’ their way out of insecurity by “moving out to the suburbs.” That “white picket fence” is over, at least in Michigan. Even if you are middle class – as most of the gun carriers whom I met were.
I am not interested in making policy recommendations about gun laws, either for or against them. I am interested in sparking conversation about what matters beyond a gun debate that is too often caustically self-congratulatory: a collapse in the American dream, dwindling confidence in public law enforcement, and the persistence of crime and insecurity in places like Detroit and Flint despite a much-celebrated “crime drop” across the US. And yes, I do want my cat to go viral.
In the winter of 2010, I arrived in Michigan to study the “gun carry revolution” for my book Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. Over the last few decades, US states have increasingly loosened their restrictions on the ability of residents to carry guns in public (including “shall-issue” and “Constitutional carry” laws) and to use them in self-defense (i.e., “Stand Your Ground” laws).
Today, estimates top off at over 11 million licensed gun carriers in the US. Some Americans are also embracing the open carrying of handguns and even long-guns. This surge in legal gun carriers reflects and sustains a major transformation in how Americans understand the place of guns in everyday life: the number-one reason Americans own guns today is for protection, and according to recent polls from Pew and Gallup, most Americans view gun ownership as doing more to protect people than endanger them. This is a major shift in the imagined place of guns as objects of safety and security.
In Michigan, where I did my research, men gun carriers outnumbered women by a ratio of 4 to 1.
The LA Times just posted one of my op-eds on masculinity and guns, looking at one (but not by any stretch the only) explanations for why men carry guns. You can find it here.
But, women gun carriers are increasing in number, and I’ve written about them in a piece I published a few months ago for Contexts magazine. Check it out here.
Special thanks go out to my sister, Brittany Carlson, for traveling all the way to Wall Street to pick up a copy of my latest op-ed on “The Future of Guns” in the Wall Street Journal.
This past weekend, I revisited my high school – a publicly-funded (meaning: FREE for the students) boarding school called the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics & Humanities, set up by the state on the campus of Ball State University. There was supposed to be a Gala celebrating the 25th anniversary of the school…or…something…but when that got cancelled, my high school BFF and I decided to go down any way (or was it “anyway”? Ms. Foltz, help?) to say hello to the teachers that changed the rest of our lives for the better – much to Mr. Rajca’s surprise. (He even said we turned out “somewhat normal.” Wow!)
The Indiana Academy was exactly as we remembered it: curious, excited students (we thought highly of ourselves, I guess!), inspiringly quirky teachers, and of course….awkward PDA in Wagoner Lounge.
Here are some action shots to prove it really happened…
A growing point of debate among pundits and scholars alike is the intersection of race and pro-gun sentiment, particularly the embrace of guns among African Americans. While white men dominate pro-gun America at the bottom (in terms of gun owners and carriers) and at the top (as leaders of the gun lobby), high-profile examples of armed Black groups, such as the Deacons for Defense, the Black Panthers and the more recent Huey Newton Gun Club, raise questions about the overlap between “white America” with “armed America.”
In my research on gun carriers in Michigan, I found that African Americans are licensed at per-capita rates that are on par with white gun carriers. Parity in terms of rates, however, does not mean that guns are attractive for the same reasons for whites versus African Americans: while white gun carriers tended to see themselves as supplementing a police force they saw as generally benign if inefficient, African American gun carriers tended to discuss police in the context of racial profiling and unwanted harassment. Jason, an African American Detroiter whom I profile in my book, even used his openly carried gun as a way to stand up to police. Furthermore, African Americans were more likely to have more direct exposure to crime than whites – and thus the pragmatism of guns may well override the politics.
This helps to explain, at least in part, why African Americans in Michigan – a place where the overpolicing/underpolicing paradox is particularly acute – are turning to concealed carry licenses, even as African Americans tend to be far less supportive of loosening gun control laws as compared to whites. Nicholas Johnson in his tome, Negroes and the Gun, references a similar paradox – noting that even as aggregate data suggest apprehension toward gun rights agenda, many African American communities, at the neighborhood level, may embrace guns for the purposes of protection at rates on par with whites.
I was initially surprised by my own findings – and the findings of scholars like Johnson for a couple of reasons. First, gun ownership is tied to felony status – felons can’t possess guns or obtain a license to carry concealed – and African Americans, thanks to decades of “tough on crime” politics and investigatory policing, are disproportionately represented among felons. Second, there is a long legal and cultural legacy of keeping guns out of the hands of African Americans (e.g., the discretionary licensing laws that predated today’s “Shall-issue” system were famously used in the Jim Crow era to ensure that Blacks would not be able to carry firearms concealed) – and as we see with the persistence of racial profiling in a “post-racial America”, old habits die hard.
Finally, there is good reason to believe that just as race relations, policing and crime are subject to distinct regional dynamics, so too might the racial politics of guns be distinct as well. For example, a recent story on the racial politics of concealed carry in Texas shows that African Americans are licensed at almost half the rate at which their population would suggest – they make up 7% of concealed handgun licensees but 12% of the state’s population.
At the same time, Texas is also home to the Huey Newton Gun Club – a group of African Americans who formed as an armed group in support of Mike Brown. So, I decided to check out the Texas data in more detail; as Harel Shapira has noted elsewhere, African Americans are denied CHLs in Texas at disproportionate rates – from 2001 to 2014, African Americans are denied at 2.8 times the rate of whites. Another noteworthy piece of data: with the exception of a dip in 2013, the proportion of African American applications and issued licenses seem to be on a slightly upward trajectory over the same time period.
Right now, it is clear that some states – Michigan is certainly one of them – harbor vibrant African American gun cultures. Perhaps other states – such as Texas? – do not, although the statistics from Texas, given their trajectories over time, certainly do not settle the debate. No doubt, this calls for a distinctly sociological intervention in the American gun debate: an analysis of American gun culture not as a monolithic whole but as a set of gun cultures organized not just around the lines of race but also region, political ideology and policing.
I am a huge fan of the show Nashville. Last week’s episode ended in Sadie fatally shooting her former abusive boyfriend, with this week’s episode focusing on the legal aftermath. Here’s what Nashville got wrong – and right – about Nashville the state and its gun laws.
First, “unregistered firearm.” There are few states, believe it or not, where this phrase means anything sensible. That’s because most states don’t have registration systems – and Tennessee is not one of them. In Nashville, there’s no such thing as an “unregistered handgun,” which makes another term used in this week’s episode – an “illegal firearm” also confusing. Although certain alterations could turn a handgun “illegal” (e.g., effacing the serial number, turning a semi-automatic to fully automatic) and it’s possible the gun was stolen, there’s no evidence that any of these apply to Sadie’s gun.
What the episode writers probably meant was that Sadie was carrying her gun without a permit to carry. In Tennessee, residents need a permit to carry openly and concealed (although that might be changing). But that’s a permit that licenses a person – not a gun.
Beyond legal technicalities, however, the show does a better job capturing the law enforcement response to women who shoot and kill their abusers in self-defense. Research shows that women who kill their abusers tend to be judged more harshly than men who claim self-defense (Think: Marissa Alexander). However, Sadie’s shooting exhibits a pattern that follows a more “conventional” self-defense scenario (at least as imagined by gun-carrying men): Sadie is a pretty and petite woman who shoots someone already established, on national media, as a “bad guy” when he confronts her in a “dark alley” (well, a dark parking lot) after a period of estrangement. My research suggests that this is a pattern that tends to rouse the sympathy of gun proponents and police alike. Gun laws in some states reflect this: Kentucky, as one example, makes expedited gun carry licenses available to women leaving domestic abuse – after all, one of the most dangerous moments for women facing intimate partner violence. As far as I can tell, Tennessee is not one of these states, and there is plenty of room for debate on these laws. Nevertheless, the producers of Nashville got it right – in a broader, cultural sense – when they decided to write in that the District Attorney dropped Sadie’s charges and slapped her with a misdemeanor.
The Takeaway: Nashville captured the spirit, though not the letter, of contemporary American gun laws in pro-gun states like Tennessee.
David Pettinicchio, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, starts a conversation that more of us should be having by sharing his research on stagnating opportunities for Americans with disabilities. Read it on The Society Pages.
Just received a sneak-peak at the final cover of my book (which is available for pre-order on Amazon)!
Ben Penglase shares the intellectual backstory of his new book, Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela. Check it out on Anthropoliteia.
Check out this story from the BBC for some analysis of the new Pew data on gun ownership – and a sneak peak at my forthcoming book, Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline!
University of Toronto Professor (and jiu jitsu expert) Jooyoung Lee provides a microsociology of Eric Garner’s gruesome death. Check it out here.
I’m the editor for a new series on the policing blog Anthropoliteia called “Tip of the Cap:”
The series ‘tips the proverbial hat’ to the major works and big ideas that inspire established and up-and-coming scholars alike. In it, we’ll showcase these scholars and the classic works that shaped them.
The first contributor in this series is Randol Contreras, sociologist and award-winning author of The Stickup Kids. Check out his post here.
Why Don’t We Own This? just released a map of over 6,000 foreclosed properties in Detroit that you can buy – at once. It’s known as the “Blight Bundle,” and Mayor Duggan thinks this will “facilitate the demolition of severely blighted properties, the redevelopment of properties with such potential” and “provide a better process for getting [the properties] back on tax rolls.” But who is going to buy 6,000 properties scattered from the edge of Dearborn to the border of Grosse Pointe?
(Thanks to Curbed Detroit for covering this.)
What motivates people to change their habits and behaviors – for better or worse? Sociologists – most notably Barry Glassner – have spent a great deal of effort analyzing how American news media, policy-making, and moral politicking are fueled by a “culture of fear” that uses fear to persuade Americans to vote for particular policies, change particular behaviors and – very often – buy particular products….or else.
My Canadian students often talk about American culture as “punitive.” Every time I drive from Ontario to Michigan, I am reminded of this punitive ethos in a mundane road sign that is updated through out the year that publicizes the number of traffic deaths on signs posted on interstates like I-75. Here, fear — fear of being another statistic of traffic death on a billboard somewhere in the highways of Michigan — becomes the motivating factor (or so MDOT presumably believes) to changing people’s bad driving habits (whatever those may be).
Okay Canadians, so what’s the alternative? On my last Michigan-Ontario drive, I found out. A society with a deep family-oriented ethos, Canada take a different approach, captured in road signs just a few hundred miles (or, if you must, kilometres) away: “Children are precious.”
More Canadiana here.