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Homicide: Behavioral Aspects - The Technology Of Homicide

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Homicide is also characterized by technology, which includes implements used to kill (guns, knives, and clubs) and substances (drugs and alcohol) that may cause or contribute to the crime. The majority of homicides in the United States are committed with a gun, usually a handgun. Uniform Crime Reports in 1998 revealed 65 percent of homicides were committed with a firearm. This percentage has remained relatively constant since 1970. Knives are the second most frequent method used, claiming 13 percent of deaths in 1998. Rates of murder involving guns are higher in the southern regions of the United States and are increasingly prevalent in homicides involving teens and young adults (Fox and Zawitz, 2000). The extent to which gun control would affect the rate of homicide remains an issue of continuing debate. Some researchers suggest that the ready availability of guns in the United States is related to the nation's high rates of criminal homicide, while others suggest that factors associated with the willingness to use guns are also of importance.

There have been attempts to explore the relationship between homicide and the use of alcohol and drugs. Studies that examine alcohol use and homicide commonly examine the percentage of victims, offenders, or both who were drinking at the time of the fatal attack. Wolf-gang's study, for example, found that in 64 percent of the homicides in Philadelphia, either the victim or the offender had consumed alcohol. Although much of the literature shows some association between alcohol and homicide, the means by which this association occurs remains problematic. Parker and Auerhahn (1999) suggest that selective disinhibition explains the association. Alcohol impacts judgement, and in potentially violent situations, alcohol will disinhibit norms that constrain individuals from engaging in violent behavior—especially in situations in which violence is seen as likely to result in successful resolution of a dispute. While exact ways in which this occurs remains obscure, some researchers studying the connection suggest that alcohol may be one causal agent in the genesis of homicide. Most researchers agree that alcohol interacts with social contexts and social relationships; it alone, apart from social contexts, does not explain the occurrence of homicide.

The relationship between drugs other than alcohol and homicide poses many of the same problems. Paul Goldstein and colleagues suggested that drugs may be associated with homicide in one of three ways. First, drug use by offenders or victims may alter behavior and increase the likelihood of violence or victimization. Second, some drug users may engage in violent crime accidentally while committing relatively nonviolent crimes aimed at securing money to buy drugs. Third, homicide may be systematically related to the use of illegal substances in that it may involve conflicts between rival drug dealers over territory, settlement for "bad debts" or for "bad drugs," and the like. Studies dealing with the impact of each of these situations have been done, although which, if any, of the three contributes most to the drug-homicide relationship is unknown, since existing studies have produced contradictory results.

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