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Have Gun Will Shoot?: Weapon Instrumentality, Intent, and the Violent Escalation of Conflict

NCJ Number
Homicide Studies Volume: 11 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2007 Pages: 272-294
Scott Phillips; Michael O. Maume
Date Published
23 pages
This study examined the potential impact of guns on the escalation of interpersonal violence.
The results suggested that guns contributed to the violent escalation of conflict, but the impact of guns decreased substantially after accounting for situation-specific intent to harm, revealing support for middle ground in the heated gun control debate. In some acts of violence: attacking a group, attacking a moving car, and attacking from a moving car require guns; without the gun the attack would not have occurred at the moment it did. In some cases, in the absence of guns the aggressors would have hunted down the victims and killed them later with a different weapon in a different setting. Except for those cases, the absence of the gun would have periodically prevented the violent outcome regardless of the aggressor’s intent, suggesting a relationship between guns and violence. The potential impact of guns on the escalation of interpersonal violence is a contentious issue with significant political implications. Gun control advocates are certain that guns kill people while gun control opponents are adamant that people kill people. Both positions are based on limited evidence as most research does not include the data needed to settle the debate. This research offers a direct approach to the more nuanced weapon instrumentality debate and demonstrates the unique forms of data and innovative methodological strategies that are needed to move from heated rhetoric to informed conclusions. The data was collected through interviews with 100 men imprisoned for an aggravated assault or homicide that stemmed from an interpersonal conflict. Each respondent described a matched pair of conflicts: the violent conflict that led to incarceration and a similar nonviolent conflict from the same time period. The matched pair design allowed for control in the accounting of both the aggressor’s violent tendencies and the aggressor’s situation-specific intent to harm. Limitations of the research are noted. Tables, notes, references


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