Diane Marano: Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices Behind Gun Violence
It is often difficult for the general public to imagine adolescents taking part in gun violence. When it does occur, people generally are unsure what to think or jump to conclusions. In Juvenile Offenders and Guns: Voices Behind Gun Violence, Diane Marano explores the reasons as to why and how male adolescents—particularly youth of color—acquire guns. To successfully gather data, Marano interviewed 25 individuals who had been convicted of at least one gun related offense before the age of 18, all being male as males take part in violent activity far more than females and are socially viewed as more violent. While there are many reasons as to why young male adolescents of color may feel the need to acquire guns, the overarching argument Marano introduced is the concept of masculinity among minority youth. Through her research, readers are able to understand why some minority youth are much more prone to falling victim to committing crime and see why minority males are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.
Through the introduction, the author discusses what persuades boys, particularly those who belong to racial minorities, to acquire guns. Although her study was not initially intended to focus on any particular racial group, it ultimately ended up focusing on blacks and Latinos as all of the participants coincidentally belonged to these two racial groups: 21 blacks, three Latinos, and one self-described mixed black-Latino. Through interviews, Marano identified a difference in the concept of masculinity among populations who live in poverty and/or are part of minorities as these groups experience stratification. The boys, who belonged to both groups, were deprived of resources and seek money, protection, and respect. This is supported by the fact that 21 of the boys lived in a struggling female-headed household and felt the need to help their struggling mother by turning to illegal activities to become the man of the house. In essence, a boy who acquires a gun will disassociate himself with femininity, especially as girls are convicted of gun related crimes far less than boys at an 8-to-1 ratio. Furthermore, American history is about guns; settlers brought guns, guns won the West, guns were used by immigrant gangsters in the nineteenth century, and guns are used by today’s “gangstas” (Marano 2015, p. 11). Lastly, popular culture such as rap music and movies portray the use of guns to obtain power when one does not have equal opportunities.
It is important, however, to understand the environment the boys lived in as it can explain how they adapted to it. In Chap. 2, the author revealed that three of the boys had been shot, 12 had been shot at, six had been victims of robberies, and 14 had friends or family members who had been shot. Many of the boys were raised around guns, one even having had a gun pointed at him at age 9. Although many of them felt fear, they realized that they could be the causer of fear, be the person with power, and obtain what they wanted without much confrontation. Others, however, initially saw it as a method of protection against their abusive fathers or mother’s boyfriends. The author makes sure to point out that research shows that poverty causes boredom, and that many of the boys found excitement in illegal activities. Even so, it in return allowed them to provide for their mothers or at least provide for themselves, such as buying food and clothes. Furthermore, with the absence of proper parental figures, many sought “the love” that gangs seem to offer. Through this, it is evident that these boys were consuming violence on a daily basis, both voluntarily and involuntary, and were subsequently consumed by violence.
As the author was able to discover why the boys acquired the guns, she then wanted to know how. In Chap. 3, it is detailed that the boys acquired their guns through a multitude of methods. At first, she wanted to prove that the pressure from peers was the leading cause, when in actuality, and to her surprise as well, this is not the case. According to the interviewees, peer pressure has little influence as they already felt the need to have guns. Instead the leading cause of gun acquisition is what Marano describes as “peer invitation” (Marano 2015, p. 64). In this scenario, someone offers the boy a gun and they take it because they feel that they need it because of their lifestyle of being in the streets. While some of them got their guns from friends or family or found them in the street, many of the boys had their gun gifted to them by what they refer to as an “old head” (Marano 2015, p. 66), which historically is a black man who leads troubled youth down the right path. However as generations went on, these men moved out of the inner city leaving behind these troubled youth who then became the new “old heads” who lead youth through the path of gang violence. The last, least used method to gun acquisition was via “connect” (Marano 2015, p. 56), meaning a person who sells guns. Nevertheless, whatever the method, all of the boys felt that with a gun they had the key to whatever they wanted, whether that is materialistic or just plain safety.
In Chap. 4, the author discusses how she was intrigued with the boys’ experiences of producing violence, especially since their gun acquisition was initially a way of protecting one’s self from danger as most of them had started selling drugs, robbing enemies, or fighting in the streets. It was after acquiring their guns that they started using them for aggressive reasons: the more guns proved useful, the more it became part of their identity. The author claims this escalation is learned from an early age where many of the boys, around 11 or 12 years of age, would beat up boys around their age, eventually leading to beating homeless men and to the drug addicts they dealt to. Although the boys differentiated in their excitement or lack thereof when robbing people—although most said they enjoyed it—they all had the same attitude that one must not care about what they are doing; do not feel empathy, even if they are of the same race. This explains why most crime is interracial. This way, they feel proud and are able to have a reputation as a manly male, which is an ideal prevalent among impoverished people as discussed earlier in the book. Such an example is the boy who felt disrespected by one of his drug runners and decided to shoot up his car, a symbol that he was doing better than his superior. Moreover, when they robbed people, it was not anything against the person; they just needed money quickly and will therefore go after people who are “flossin” (Marano 2015, p. 99), or someone who looks like they have money due to wearing extravagant clothing or jewelry.
The boys’ actions resulted in their missing out on important teenage experiences such as prom and graduation, which resulted in further negative consequences such as being arrested. Chapter 5 explains that, although guns may have lowered their initial fears, they ultimately raised the risk of being harmed. This is corroborated by the fact that if you shoot at someone, they will retaliate and escalate the violence; everybody is “shot for a reason,” claimed one of the boys (Marano 2015, p. 130). While all the interviewees who joined gangs said they did so for social reasons rather than protection, it lead to greater chances of victimization just as guns had. The boys, however, held the opposite viewpoint because they were surrounded by other guys they viewed as protectors, both emotionally and physically. Interestingly enough, some admitted that they are worried that even the people within their own circle would shoot them. Fears such as the possibility of death at any time is what leads youth to develop an attitude toward life where they feel it is better to make easy, fast money through illegal activities rather than to live an honest, but slow and uncertain, life. Furthermore, growing up in such neighborhoods as the boys had made them blind to other options; it is what they knew. Although some of the boys said that they hope to stay out of trouble upon release, they also said that they will continue to keep ties to their gang as it is part of their identity; at the end of the day, regardless of whether or not they change their lifestyle, they are still a gang member.
In the book’s last chapter, the author makes her conclusion with saying that these boys who live a street lifestyle acquired a gun so he can be a man, a definition that varies depending on your background. For these poor, minority males, it means to be fearless, powerful, and to have the ability to take care of themselves and those they care about in both physical and materialistic ways. To do so, they must have guns and be emotionally suppressant: guns because it acts as the key to anything you want and emotionally suppressant because it allows you to commit such acts with guns. Some acquired guns for protection as they were involved in the streets and others acquired them to prevent the streets from victimizing them. Either way, they felt reason to have a gun. Although some claim that they want to change, their environment will stay the same, which will prevent them from successfully making such changes. In their world, a gun equates to their constructed version of masculinity, something that they need to prove, especially as they had to become the man of the house. Although middle-class boys tend to be just as fascinated by guns, they are able to leave such fascination behind, besides perhaps for sporting uses and home protection, as they have the opportunity to pursue life goals.
Juvenile offenders and guns Voices behind gun violence offers a nice insight into the world of young minority males and informs the reader into understanding the dispositions they are subject to. Although it can be said this book is not effective at offering solutions to solving such issues, doing so was not the main purpose of this book. While studies try to formulate solutions to such issues, they do not take into consideration the differences between groups. The author stresses that the most important aspect to figuring out why males who belong to certain groups exhibit violent attitudes is due to their culture’s construction of masculinity and how it forces boys to prove their masculinity. The only limitation this book had, and the author even addressed it herself, is that she was unable to interview more individuals under the age of 18 at the time of the interviews because of the need for parental consent and none of the boys were convicted of murder or moved up to adult court. Had this been the case, it could have offered more useful data. Still, the study of gun use by juveniles remains surprisingly understudied (see Mundt et al. 2017), which makes the book’s conclusions particularly important ones.
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Conflict of interest
Author declares that they have no conflict of interest.