Firearms Studies, 20 years on: What have we learned about preventing gun violence

Peter Squires1, Rick Sarre2

1 Professor of Criminology & Public Policy, University of

It is 20 years now since the awful shooting tragedies of Dunblane and Port Arthur changed the politics of global gun control – arguably forever. Yet mass shootings have continued around the world, especially in the USA, prompting President Obama to wonder why the USA cannot learn the lessons of Britain and Australia and adopt some ‘common-sense’ and, it would appear, ‘popular’ gun control measures. It has long been assumed that the USA was something of an exceptional case as regards gun violence, but increasingly it is far more the intransigence of its gun lobby that defines this uniqueness. And, as the dangers of a weaponizing world reveal themselves, this paper will try to reflect upon what 20 years of the emerging interdisciplinary field of ‘firearm studies’ has taught us; what lessons we still need to learn, and what questions we still need to ask. It seems fair to say that social scientific engagement with firearms – from sociology to anthropology, international relations to human rights, quantitative evaluation to ethnography, peace studies to policing and criminology to cultural studies, has developed apace over the past 20 years, while Dunblane and Port Arthur were themselves critical catalysts in the course of gun policy reform, nationally and internationally. Ironically, both Dunblane and Port Arthur are often cited as examples of the public safety gains which might be possible if only the USA would, or could, address questions of firearm safety policy from a less partisan and more evidence based standpoint. And yet, the US itself has a deep and rich vein of firearms research, much of which seldom travels very far beyond the USA. The aim of this paper, and the papers in the panel is to explore how the field of critical ‘Firearm Studies’ has developed in the past 20 years.


Peter Squires has been Professor of Criminology at the University of Brighton since 2005 and the author of Gun Culture or Gun Control? (Routledge, 2000); Shooting to Kill? (Blackwell, 2010) and Gun Crime in Global Contexts (Routledge, 2014), his research interests have also included gangs, youth crime, anti-social behaviour and policing. He is a member of the National ‘Criminal Use of Firearms’ independent advisory group and, in 2015, was elected President of the British Society for Criminology


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