Why crims use guns

Professor Andrew Goldsmith will use a new ARC grant to explore the "expressive" reasons for gun crime in Australia.
Professor Andrew Goldsmith will use a new ARC grant to explore the “expressive” reasons for gun crime in Australia.

“Look at me, I’ve got a gun.”

Don’t panic, Flinders University’s resident criminologist Professor Andrew Goldsmith doesn’t actually own a gun.

He’s speaking figuratively about the motivations for gun use by criminals.

Apparently, a lot of it comes down to bravado rather than intent to harm.

“People tend to assume that the motivations for gun acquisition and use are to harm or facilitate criminal activity but there’s an element of personal identity, bravado and masculine display that’s also part of the picture,” Professor Goldsmith said.

“It’s about showing off to your mates and appearing tough,” he said.

“There’s also a strong self-protection and intimidation element to gun ownership.”

Most of the research about the uses and meanings of firearms, Professor Goldsmith says, comes from the US and UK, with virtually no information on gun life in Australia.

But thanks to a new grant from the Australian Research Council, Professor Goldsmith is about to conduct an Australian-first study exploring how and why guns are used in criminal life Down Under, thereby building a better picture of current and emerging trends in Australia’s criminal gun use.

The grant is the first national competitive grant to be awarded to researchers at Flinders’ new Centre for Crime Policy and Research. The Centre was officially launched in June this year.

As part of the three-year study, Professor Goldsmith, fellow Flinders Law School Professor Mark Halsey and Dr David Bright from the University of New South Wales will interview 90 convicted firearms offenders in South Australian and NSW prisons; paying particular attention to the use of illicit firearms in drug trafficking, armed robbery and organised crime.

“We’re interested in offenders’ access to guns, their reasons for acquiring guns, the different ways they use guns and how guns have become part of their identity and commitments to activities in their criminal lives,” Professor Goldsmith, Flinders’ Strategic Professor of Criminology, said.

“We know from international literature that drug trafficking, organised crime activities and armed robbery emerge constantly as areas in which gun possession is prevalent but we want to find out how this relates in the Australian context.

“There seems to be a cultural trend emerging with handguns that we also want to explore – guns are particularly useful in the criminal world if you can conceal them.”

According to the Australian Crime Commission, there are more than 250,000 illegal long-arms (rifles, shotguns etc) and 10,000 illegal handguns in Australia. Statistics show annual deaths from long-arm weapons dropped by 200 per cent in the 10 years to 2001 while handgun-related homicides almost doubled.

Professor Goldsmith said findings of the research will inform key policy areas including crime prevention, victim assistance, tackling organised crime groups, public reassurance and firearms regulation.

“We’re hoping to create an initial and original contribution to understanding gun crime in Australia, including the links to other crime activities and the expressive dimensions of gun acquisition, display and use.

“The analysis will fill an important policy gap in available knowledge and thereby assist the development of more effective policies to reduce the impact of gun crime within, and upon, Australian communities.”

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