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Guns in the City: Urban Landscapes of Armed Violence


Dr Keith Krause .

Mr Robert Muggah .

Research Project

Urban Violence and Security Policies: Local Public and Private Methods of Securing Urban Space

> see the project description


Urban armed violence forces us to rethink our mental geography of state, society, and governance—including the factors that lead to armed violence and the proliferation and misuse of small arms and light weapons. Previous editions of the Small Arms Survey focused on the role of arms in conflict and crime as well as on their impact on development and humanitarian activity. This year’s theme chapter—Guns in the City—concentrates on the specific characteristics of urban armed violence and insecurity, introducing new evidence from a wide range of urban centres in Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Europe, Africa, and South and East Asia.

The chapter explores urban–rural variations and local responses to armed violence. New information on the spatial and temporal distribution of urban violence is illustrated with comparative data from the United States, Canada, and Brazil. In the United States, for instance, average homicide rates are higher in larger cities than in smaller ones, but they reach their peak in medium-sized cities.

The chapter then considers the emergence of new forms of ‘urban order’, including peri-urban, semi-urban, and inner-city forms of habitation. It looks at how the transformation of urban landscapes is driven by individual and collective reactions to perceived (subjectively experienced) versus real (empirically observed) insecurity. In some cities, violence has become contained or exported to slums in peripheral urban zones, which are characterized by poverty, poor infrastructure and services, and sometimes rampant insecurity. The response of middle- and upper-class residents has been to build walls to shield themselves, giving rise to gated communities. The result is a fragmentation of public space, a breakdown of social cohesion through the generation of new forms of spatial segregation and social discrimination, and potentially more violence.

The chapter reviews the state of knowledge on urban armed violence, revealing regional and city trends and patterns of criminal and political armed violence. Research generated by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime examines trends in gun ownership within selected African cities; household surveys explore the distribution of armed violence in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; and the phenomenon of gated communities in response to the ‘violence of urbanization’ is analysed. From Latin America to Southeast Asia, the chapter finds that urban armed violence is intimately connected to the structural dynamics of urbanization, as well as to the competing interests of—and demonstrated power asymmetries between—social groups. Armed violence is both a result of and a catalyst for transformations in urban governance and spatial organization.

Crucially, the chapter adopts a three-fold approach to the understanding, prevention, and reduction of urban armed violence. Effective municipal-level interventions must consider the different dimensions of the urban landscape, the importance of real and perceived violence, and the role of isolation, containment, and exportation in relation to violence reduction. The chapter introduces a typology for understanding local interventions designed to reduce armed violence and control small arms, highlighting potential entry-points for rethinking improvements in human security and public safety (see Figure 5.5). Interventions can be coercive, compliance-oriented, or voluntary. The most successful activities appear to be planned and executed on the basis of reliable evidence and carefully sequence elements of all three approaches.


"Guns in the City: Urban Landscapes of Armed Violence", in: Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City
English | [4675 ko] > download