ST. LOUIS-(KMOX) – A local criminologist says half of the gun crimes in the city could be related to gang activity.
“There’s a very strong relationship between guns and gangs,” said Associate Professor of Criminology Beth Huebner with the University of Missouri St. Louis. “We see gang members more likely to carry guns and to use them.”
Huebner says there are some 2,000 local gang members in a St. Louis police gang database. But she says that number understates the true population because it does not include juveniles and the average gang member is aged 13 to 16.
“Most of the people involved in gangs in St. Louis are not involved with people in [Los Angeles] or Chicago,” Huebner said. “They may have received illegal guns from other channels, but we don’t see a lot of recruitment.”
A typical gang gun in St. Louis is likely to be shared, a dynamic Huebner says you don’t see with other gun owners.
“One person might have purchased that gun illegally, or got it through a gun show,” she said, “but then a group of people will share that gun.”
The willingness to use guns in St. Louis gangs is heightened by peer pressure and the immaturity of teenage gun carriers.
“These kids don’t understand some of the outcomes of using a gun and how lethal they can be,” Huebner said, “and how quickly an interaction between civilized people can get out of hand.”
By age seventeen, most St. Louis area gang members tend to “transition out” of the gang life, Huebner said. Many no longer have the energy to run around with younger kids now in gangs below them. Others quit gangs because of the influence of a spouse or girlfriend. Others end up in prison or succumb to gang violence.
As to whether cracking down on gangs would end gun violence in the city, Huebner says it’s not that simple.
“Even if we got away from gangs themselves, and I agree that we should do everything we can to reduce gangs, in some ways this is a juvenile phenomenon. So, even if people don’t label themselves as gangs, there still may be that problem.”
Police Chief Dan Isom was asked to what extent gun crimes in the city are related to gangs. The chief says he believes gun crimes flow from three causes in descending order – domestic disputes, the drug trade and gangs.
Huebner says St. Louis is not alone in dealing with a gang problem, nor is it only a modern menace to society.
“There’s always been challenges with problematic youth groups forever,” she said, “and we see these problems in every city almost. We see them in Europe, in Asia. So I think this is a part of our social fabric. It’s part of growing up to join a group and give yourself a name.”