Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy


Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy



Legal and public policies concerning youth gun violence tend to rely heavily on crime reports, survey data, and statistical methods. Rarely is attention given to the young voices belonging to those who carry high-powered semiautomatic handguns. In Language of the Gun, Bernard E. Harcourt recounts in-depth interviews with youths detained at an all-malecorrectional facility, exploring how they talk about guns and what meanings they ascribe to them in a broader attempt to understand some of the assumptions implicit in current handgun policies. In the process, Harcourt redraws the relationships among empirical research, law, and public policy.

Home to over 150 repeat offenders ranging in age from twelve to seventeen, the Catalina Mountain School is made up of a particular stratum of boys – those who have committed the most offenses but will still be released upon reaching adulthood. In an effort to understand the symbolic and emotional language of guns and gun carrying, Harcourt interviewed dozens of these incarcerated Catalina boys. What do these youths see in guns? What draws them to handguns? Why do some of them carry and others not? For Harcourt, their often surprising answers unveil many of the presuppositions that influence our laws and policies.



Publication Date



University of Chicago Press


Chicago, IL


"Language of the Gun shows why Bernard Harcourt has earned a reputation as one of our most provocative and informative analysts of the administration of criminal justice. Thoroughly interdisciplinary, he brings to bear on his subject a remarkably wide range of sources. Most striking are his probing interviews with at-risk youths which provide a fascinating and rare glimpse into how they think about guns and gun carrying. This book bristles with insight and information."
Randall Kennedy

"Bernard Harcourt is surely one of the most creative scholars working at the intersection of law, social science, and policy. In Language of the Gun, he presents a fresh and empirical look at the meaning of guns for youths that helps shed new light on broader theoretical and policy issues."
Calvin Morrill

"[Harcourt] embraces the metaphor of ’dirty hands’ in this erudite, fascinating, and boldly reasoned volume to understand how public policies can be informed by the symbolic meanings attributed to guns by incarcerated youths.... It is an important book, one that forces each of us to examine the assumptions that underlie our work. Harcourt’s work is a gift to the field, a work that stimulates, frustrates, inspires, and, most important, motivates us to think and read more."
Michael B. Greene, PsychCritiques (APA)

"A very important book in my view. Harcourt has given the opportunity for the voices of young people, both perpetrators and victims of gun violence, to be heard through his research.... He has conducted a methodologically unique study. The empirical findings are very much welcome."
Georgios A. Antonopolous, The Howard Journal


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.


Criminal Law | Criminology | Juvenile Law | Law | Law and Philosophy | Law and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance | Sociology

Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy

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