Recent gun violence in Texas, Michigan, Louisiana and Minnesota has led to protests in various cities across America, including Chicago, Sacramento and Atlanta. The Dallas police chief, David Brown, was quoted on Reuters as saying;


We don’t know who the 'good guy'... is if everybody starts shooting.


How did it come to this? President Obama has been reaching out for lawmakers to make changes to gun laws but the question remains as to whether they have the nous to act. And even if they did, would legislation have any effect? Perhaps the answer lies elsewhere.

Howard Saul Becker is an American sociologist who has made remarkable contributions to the sociology of deviance and labelling theory. His book of 1963, called ‘Outsiders’ states that the activities of a ‘deviant’ person are not, in essence, bad, but are made so by someone or something labelling their behaviour that way. 

Once labelled ‘deviant,’ it is more likely an individual will follow deviant paths, making the likelihood of a life of petty crime, much greater.

Perhaps we just need mentors in our lives who can serve as role models. Consider this - the ‘minefield’ of violence we speak of can be seen through the lens that is the theory of symbolic interactionism. That is, that people ‘know’ what is true via their own subjective understanding of what they see and hear. Their own experiences evolve into their beliefs, based not on fact but on their own interpretation. Thus, the saying, ‘he lives in his own little world,’ is, for the most part, correct. We all do.

Following the argument put forward by symbolic interactionist theory, as described on;

Having no biological bases at all, race [is a] social construct that functions based on what we believe to be true about people, given what they look like. We use socially constructed meanings of help us decide...the meaning of a person's words or actions.


Perhaps society needs to consider the effect of labelling and social deviance on the ‘offender,’ and, by extension, on society as a whole. Theoretically, the fact a criminal offends does not make them a bad person. Yet, practically, the likelihood they’ll re-offend is high. How many times do they need to be arrested before they become a ‘bad’ person? Isn’t that a subjective label anyway, as we all have our own sense of what is true? The problem is, the answer for theorists like Becker would be not locking up the ‘criminal’ so they can maintain, or return to, a ‘good’ opinion of themselves.

Yet what about the community at large? Surely they require knowledge the judicial system is working to ensure their safety.

A broad outlook would be to hark back to where the prisoner’s ‘deviant’ behaviour first started – at home.

Patrick Fagan PhD, of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C, states, in an article entitled The Real Root Causes of Violent Crime: The Breakdown of Marriage, Family, and Community;’


  • State-by-state analysis by Heritage scholars indicates that a 10 percent increase in the percentage of children living in single-parent homes leads typically to a 17 percent increase in juvenile crime.


If society is no longer based around the ‘family,’ then juvenile crime will rise. If juvenile crime rises, so too will recidivism. But if society can fight recidivism we will be able to reduce the incidence of violent crime. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics;

Among state prisoners released in 30 states in 2005— 

§  About two-thirds (67.8%) of released prisoners were arrested for a new crime within 3 years

Could the real answer lie with social cognitive theory? Albert Bandura, David Starr Jordan Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University, argues that children observe the behaviour of those around them, including parents within a family setting, characters on television, classmates and teachers at school. The people in these settings create examples of behaviour to imitate and follow. Their behaviour becomes the child’s ‘social norm.’

This leads to the childs ‘encoding’ of behaviour observed, with a view to the child repeating this behaviour as their own. They will do this whether the behaviour is ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ In dysfunctional families, this can lead to a child creating ‘pattern-forming’ modes of behaviour that may lead to them becoming a dysfunctional, even ‘deviant’ member of society.

Bandura’s theory of social cognition makes it even more important for children to be surrounded by socially functioning individuals, be they adults or peers. This is where crime and violence starts.


As Susan Milligan wrote on in 2014 (;


A gunman killed a student and wounded two others at a small Seattle college last week...On Friday, a man opened fire outside a Georgia courthouse, wounding a deputy before being shot dead himself...On Sunday, a Nevada couple, heavily armed...started shooting. They shot dead two police officers...On Tuesday, a teenager armed with a rifle, shot a student dead and wounded a teacher, then [died himself]...Meantime, we wait for the next shooting.


There must be an end in sight, for America’s sake, for the sake of all Americans.

Published by Owen Tilley