The Reality and Myth of Weapons and Violence in Gang Life

The Reality and Myth of Weapons and Violence in Gang Life

Timothy R. Lauger (Niagara University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9938-0.ch004
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Abstract

Weapons and violence are both real and mythic elements of gang life. Though violence is a real element of gang life, public perceptions about gangs may be exaggerated, invoking the idea of dangerous youth roaming the streets. The image of violent gang members is also embraced and used by youth on the streets to navigate their social world. Gang members often create personal and group-based myths by exaggerating their use of weapons and violence. This chapter examines the division between myth and reality in gang life. It reviews research to establish that weapons and violence are real elements of gang members' lives throughout the world. It further explores how myths emerge among gang members who have ample motivation for fictionalizing violence and weapons use. This chapter relies on the social psychological ideas of social constructionism, interpretive socialization, and identity to explain the existence of myths in gang life.
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Introduction

Weapons and violence are both real and mythic elements of gang life. High profile and widely reported incidents of gun violence, like those from Indianapolis and Seattle, influence perceptions about gangs and gang violence. Yet such stories rarely include information that places these incidents within the context of crime trends over time, the nature and prevalence of gang violence, and the frequency of violence in the daily lives of gang members. Public perceptions about gangs may be skewed or exaggerated, raising fears about the prevalence of dangerous youth roaming the streets. The image of gun-toting, violent gang members is not just created by outsiders. It is also embraced and used by youth on the streets to navigate their social world. When gang members interact with peers, they often create personal and group-based myths by exaggerating their willingness and ability to use weapons and violence. The division between myth and reality is sometimes hard to discern in gang life.

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