The open-access, online book review site, Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books, has recently published a review I wrote of Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices Behind Gun Violence by Diane Marano. (Note: I grant that “gun violence” is a problematic category but I am not going to engage that issue here.)
Although I have said repeatedly that my primary interest is in the legal use of guns by lawful gun owners rather than the deviant use of guns by criminals, I was asked to do this review at a weak moment and accepted. And I did learn some things from reading and reflecting on it (how could you not?).
You can access and read the full review for yourself if you’re interested. Here I will just note a couple of the major takeaways:
(1) Focusing on criminal gun possession and use by 25 offenders in custody at six facilities of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission, Marano tells an important story of the process by which the material vulnerability of being a poor, inner-city, minority youth gets translated into gun possession. This in turn facilitates the production of gun violence, mediated by involvement with drugs and gangs, but also results in greater physical vulnerability. It is a story, then, of a downward spiral of dangerous adaptations to an unfortunate social reality.
Of course, although the behavior is socially patterned, it is not mechanical or deterministic. The majority of poor, inner-city, minority youth who live under the exact same circumstances as these incarcerated youth do not illegally possess guns or engage in violent criminal behavior. Sadly, the innocent majority are nonetheless negatively impacted by the behavior of the criminal minority, both directly and indirectly.
(2) Marano draws on her interviewees descriptions to paint a picture of a social world dominated by vulnerability resulting from “empty families,” an absence of both material and emotional support at home (p. 31). Among the most striking social realities affecting these youth is that 21 of the 25 respondents (84%) lived only with a female parent or guardian (17 mothers, 3 aunts, 1 grandmother). Only 3 of the 25 (12%) lived with both a mother and father (Appendix B, p. 169). When young men take to “the streets” in response to empty families and the lack of male authority figures, they bring the additional vulnerability of violence into their lives. Again, the downward spiral ensues.
More attention to helping families could go a long way toward making home and school a more attractive choice for these young men than the streets.