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James Wright

Thursday, January 1st, 1998

Professor James D. Wright of Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, a noted scholar in the sociological field of firearms research, is the designated recipient of the CCRKBA Gun Rights Defender of the Month Award for January.

In nominating Wright, the Charles and Leo Favrot Professor of Human Relations in the Department of Sociology at Tulane for the Award, John Michael Snyder, CCRKBA Public Affairs Director, stated that “Jim has established himself as a leader in the objective study of firearms ownership in the United States. He is an expert on the relation between that ownership and the use and misuse of guns in our society.

“When Jim started out on the path of firearms research 20 years ago, he and his co-researcher at the time, Peter H. Rossi, were faced with a general ‘scholarly’ predilection against gun ownership. As a result of their analyses of literature in the field, however, they reported later in UNDER THE GUN: WEAPONS, CRIME AND VIOLENCE IN AMERICA in 1983, that ‘there is no compelling evidence that the private ownership of firearms among the general population is, per se, an important cause of criminal violence. This is not to conclude that guns are not a cause of crime, but rather that no one has yet persuasively demonstrated this to be the case. The unproved hypothesis is just that: unproved, not necessarily true or false.’

“Since then, Jim’s scholarly works have done a lot to rectify certain misconceptions about popular gun ownership in the United States. While a number of such misconceptions still are prevalent among large segments of the media and the political universe, Jim and people like him deserve a lot of credit for their pursuit of the truth in this matter, for undertaking the intellectual spadework without which it would not be possible to develop certain lines of rational argumentation. He is most deserving of this Award.”

Professor Wright received his Bachelor of Arts from Purdue University in 1973, his Master of Science from the University of Wisconsin in 1970, and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin in 1973. He has published 16 books and 125 journal articles, book chapters and essays on topics ranging from survey research methods, American politics, homelessness and poverty, to gun control. In addition to his continuing research on urban poverty, on alcohol and drug issues, and on firearms and violence, James Wright currently is directing a five-year collaborative effort between Tulane and Xavier Universities, the Housing Authority of New Orleans, and the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designed to increase the economic self-sufficiency and improve the overall quality of life for residents of public housing.

In addition to UNDER THE GUN, his books on firearms issues include IN THE LINE OF FIRE: YOUTH, GUNS AND VIOLENCE IN URBAN AMERICA (1995) and ARMED AND CONSIDERED DANGEROUS: A SURVEY OF FELONS AND THEIR FIREARMS (1986).

At Tulane University, Jim is Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He also has been a full professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts as well as the Director of that University’s Social and Demographic Research Institute.

Last October, Professor Wright discussed his TEN ESSENTIAL OBSERVATIONS ON GUNS IN AMERICA during a scholars conference in Washington, D. C. sponsored by the American Firearms Council, Inc.

First published in the March, April, 1995 issue of RESEARCH AND PUBLIC POLICY, Jim lists the following as his 10 observations:

1. Half the households in the country own at least one gun.

2. There are 200 million guns already in circulation in the United States, give or take a few tens of millions.

3. Most of those 200 million guns are owned for socially inocuous sport and recreational purposes.

4. Many guns are also owned for self-defense against crime, and some are indeed used for that purpose; whether they are actually safer or not, many people certainly seem to feel safer when they have a gun.

5. The bad guys do not get their guns through customary retail channels.

6. The bad guys inhabit a violent world; a gun often makes a life-or-death difference to them.

7. Everything the bad guys do with their guns is already against the law.

8. Demand creates its own supply.

9. Guns are neither inherently good not inherently evil; guns, that is, do not possess teleology.

10. Guns are important elements in our history and culture.

Wright makes a number of deductions and draws some interesting conclusions from an analysis of his “10 observations.”

He notes, for instance, “it is frequently argued by pro-control advocates that the mere presence of guns causes people to do nutty and violent things that they would otherwise never even consider. In the academic literature on ‘guns as aggression-eliciting stimuli,’ this is called the ‘trigger pulls the finger’ hypothesis. If there were much substance to this viewpoint, the fact that half of all U. S. households possess a gun would seem to imply that there ought to be a lot more nuttiness ‘out there’ than we actually observe. In the face of widespread alarm about the skyrocketing homicide rate, it is important to remember that the rate is still a relatively small number of homicides (10 to 15 or so) per hundred thousand people. If half the households own guns and the mere presence of guns incites acts of violence, then one would expect the bodies to be piled three deep, and yet they are not.”

Wright notes that “when one asks gun owners why they own guns, various sport and recreational activities dominate the responses – hunting, target shooting, collecting and the like. Even when the question is restricted to handgun owners, about 40 percent say they own the gun for sport and recreational applications, another 40 percent say they own it for self-protection, and the remaining 20 percent cite their job or occupation as the principal reason for owning a gun.

“Thus for the most part, gun ownership is apparently a topic more appropriate to the sociology of leisure than to the criminology or epidemiology of violence. The vast majority of guns now in circulation will never be used for anything more violent or abusive than killing the furry creatures of the woods and fields.”