Explaining Gun Violence Using Durkheim’s Social Facts

David Emile Durkheim (1858–1917)

The dawn of the 20th century marked a new start for society with various theorists across the globe presenting unique positions on various matters that affected humanity. All this was done in the quest to understand better human nature in a society wrought with incredible complexities. One such academic was the David Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) a brilliant Frenchman made it his life’s work to solve the enigma that was society. Sociology owes a great deal to Durkheim as he is widely credited with developing social science as an academic discipline. His work focused on changes taking place in society where it was evident that modernity was but a contemporary reality that individuals had to accept. The focus was on the nascent social institutions that would mushroom as a result of radical changes that were to take place on an industrial scale. Durkheim conducted studies to back his claims spending lengthy periods to prove his suppositions and catapult sociology to the forefront zenith of academia and in the process showing that it was autonomous (Giddens and Griffiths, 2008, p.34) .

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To him, sociology was an authentic science that could be utilized by exerts when trying to understand various phenomena prevalent in contemporary life. Through his continual pondering over these great questions, he was finally able to tweak positivism as a reflection of his version of epistemological realism. It was from this premise that he developed the Theory of Social Facts. Durkheim was, in essence, applying physical science to explain the authenticity in using sociology to verify these facts. Out of all current events taking place around the world, gun violence in the United States is best suited for elucidation using a social fact lens. In this essay, I will use social facts to discuss gun violence in the United States in a bid to provide a final discussion into is prevalence.

Demystifying Social Facts as per Durkheim’s Position

Social facts were indeed the cornerstone of Durkheim’s sociological construct.  They consist of societies general demeanor, their disposition on various issues of concern and external forces that compel an individual to fit into society and subsequently conform. Most individuals are usually born into cultures with strong values and tradition which they ultimately have to adhere to wholly. Durkheim’s primary objective was to develop suitable models that would help everyone understand their behavior and why their society’s had the most profound effect on how they carried themselves (Lehmann, n.d.). Encapsulated in this objective was the desire to express reality in its purest form, allowing society to understand the behavior of its members and possible triggers fully. It is common for a vast majority of members of a particular society to live in a state of perpetual ignorance with others deliberately choosing to ignore these facts.  These coercive forces are from without and seek to force many of these persons to internalize a particular culture. Moreover, they are not inherently grounded in the person’s being and the reason why psychological drives play no part influencing the subject’s behavior. Durkheim was championing an approach that relied solely on empirical facts in making any inference. It was typical for a regular observer to miss social events, therefore becoming oblivious to the truth that surrounds them in reality. In presenting this theory, Durkheim was certain that social facts were integral in promoting full comprehension of significant events that were unique to a specific society. By so doing, he was introducing a model that would act as a starting point whenever a paradigm shift was required. In this particular instance an external factor that forces an individual to behave in a manner different from how they would if they were in isolation comes into play. A collective mindset, therefore, forms around individuals from these localities, with all expected to accept it even when it acts as a constraint to normalcy.

Gun Violence

In recent times, the proliferation of arms around the world has been blamed for a spike in gun violence. These weapons are either in the hands of law enforcement officers, military personnel or private individuals. Gun-related violence provides a horrifying statistic that involves cases of aggravated assault using firearms. There are occasions where the law permits the use of a gun in a manner that can injure, maim or kill an individual. One of these instances includes a situation where a person is defending their property of a state officer using maximum force to stop an armed assailant from causing harm to others. Presently, 875 million guns are thought to be owned by civilians and the reason why the number of incidences keeps rising by the day (Gabor, 2016) . All in all, this existential problem has become a severe threat when innocent people are going about their business. Homicide, in particular, has become the most common manifestation of gun violence in developed countries.

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The United States is often hit hardest with the majority of the cases recorded per capita taking place in its hinterland. It is saddening how news outlets have, over the years, been awash with incidences of mass shootings that indiscriminately lead to loss of precious lives. Women and children are increasingly falling victim to these heinous acts which have become a source of concern for security pundits around the world. Estimates provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate approximately 32 persons in the United States die daily as a result of gun-related violence in the country (Gabor, 2016). Persons residing in this country are more likely to be killed by a fellow American citizen than by a jihadi terrorist.  It is for this reason that detractors of current gun laws lobby for a change in these policies in a bid to prevent such eventualities.

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Explaining American Gun Violence to using Durkheim’s Social Facts

The United States has a somewhat complicated relationship with guns. Globally, a vast majority of privately owned guns are in the hands of the American citizens a clear indication of a vibrant gun culture. The “New World,” as it was referred to by early explorers had provided European powers with an opportunity to spread their imperialistic wings and colonize these “discovered” lands. North America was particularly crucial to these powers as it had vast swathes of land that could be worked to provide raw materials for European industries. France, the Netherlands, Spain and the British each claimed different territories in North America. Immigrants from all over Europe crossed the high seas in search of a better life in this land of opportunity together with others, such as the Puritans escaping religious persecution.

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After years of colonial rule, it was soon apparent that individuals living on this continent had developed their unique way of life, entirely different from that belonging to their European cousins. Additional residents of this American colony deeply despised their colonial masters who they saw as alien figureheads imposing their law on them. Americans were most angered by the taxes that they had to pay, which soon degenerated into all-out conflict.  The Continental War meant that these two adversaries go against each other in a classic case of a nation’s struggle for independence. One integral factor that enabled the United States to wage war against the British successfully was the fact that individuals already had the freedoms to possess guns. Ultimately, these efforts would culminate in the adoption of the Second Amendment to the country’s constitution (Carter, 2006, p.78). Under this clause, all citizens have the right to keep and bear arms with the constitution stating this position. The government is therefore expected to refrain from infringing on a person’s right to own firearms and is thus unable to implement any regulation. It is for this reason that the United States is plagued by the highest number of gun-related casualties worldwide.

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In explaining the behavior adopted by a particular individual Durkheim first focused on the society they were from. His use of social facts suggested that external forces were responsible for the conduct an individual would adopt for them to fit in. Under normal circumstances, these persons would not choose such behavior but in such cases seem compelled by their immediate environment to take a particular mindset. The Second Amendment is partly to blame for the spike in gun-related violence in the United States. Nationalist fervor is often seen as a trigger for this gun keeping culture as many individuals look to the history of the United States and the pivotal role that arms played in securing its independence. In this particular instance, the positions spelled out in the Second Amendment were responsible for external forces that forced many to become gun owners. Bearing arms was seen as an auxiliary right that no one could interfere with. However, many did not realize the profound effect immediately this cause would have and the thousands it would come to affect.  These external forces were further influenced by an individual’s natural light that allowed them to resist any form of oppression defend themselves and their state. Most Americans were strongly influenced by this culture and had to own arms to conform. With a solemn national promise to always be ready to defend the nation from invasion and by raising a regulated militia the United States inadvertently created fertile ground for American citizens from all walks of life to own firearms. Every single American often feels that they must arm themselves as this is what society expects of them.  These social facts are so reliable that they often result in ordinary Americans arming themselves to the teeth.  An individual who wouldn’t ordinarily feel the need to arm themselves soon acknowledges the societal pressure surrounding them and soon arm themselves.

Forces from without are usually the main reason why gun violence is highest in the United States.  The need to have a personal cache of weapons soon becomes a primary requirement for most Americans who feel that being heavily armed is the only way they would survive and defend their country in a worst-case scenario. Social facts coupled with poor background checks for prospective gun buyers create a situation where guns become readily available all. Another issue that is of the utmost concern is that mentally ill individuals and others who are psychologically unstable end up in possession of high powered assault rifles and military grade equipment that I would enable them to wreak havoc in the even they had a mental break down. Events that culminated in the murder of revelers at an Orlando gay club and the Sandy Hook mass shooting are some examples of the cost that Americans had to pay for implementing the Second Amendment entirely. These were individuals predisposed to violent acts but were still able to purchase sophisticated weapons such as AR-15’s and automatic rifles in addition to being in possession of body armor. The truth of the matter is that the United States was rearing a Leviathan that will, most likely, result in more casualties. The 2nd Amendment, in its purest form, is detrimental to the future of the United States due to the violence that will possibly be meted out to innocent civilians. The issue of contention here is the influence that social facts have on persons and how it is possible to become a source of tragedy.

Conclusion

Emile Durkheim played a significant role in sociology for being one of the first theorists to seek answers for various unexplained phenomenon in society. The Social Facts theory posited that the behavior of individuals was directly affected by external forces emanating from society. Ideological identifications held by the American society in as far as gun ownership is concerned remains the sole reason why gun violence continues to manifest itself frequently in the country.

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