CRIM491 Criminology, Law & Society Honors Seminar

HomeLinksCRIM491 Criminology, Law & Society Honors Seminar

Class Time:  Thursdays, 4:30 pm-7:10pm
Class Location:  Innovation Hall, Room 208 (Fairfax campus)
Professor:  Dr. Christopher Koper
Email: | Office Phone:  703-993-4982

Reading Questions

Due Nov. 13th:

  • Familiarize yourself with the Maryland assault weapons law posted on the course website. In particular, review pages 8-10, 13-16, and 22-24. (Note that the posted version shows changes that were made to the law in 2013. The marked out portions were deleted, underlined passages represent new insertions, and bracketed words and expressions were replaced with the bolded words or expressions following them.) You do not need to answer questions about the law for this assignment, but you will need to understand the law for your research assignment, the reading question below, and class discussion on Nov. 13th.
  • Review the U.S. District Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Maryland assault weapons law (this reading is posted on the course website). Focus particularly on pages 1-5, 14-37, and 41-47. Summarize the constitutional issues under review in the case and the Court’s reasoning in deciding these issues.


Due Nov. 6th:

  • Synthesize key points from the Fallis and Falconer articles and the Violence Policy Center reports on assault weapons (“Assault Pistols: The Next Wave” and “Target Law Enforcement: Assault Weapons in the News”). What do these reports suggest about current patterns and trends in the availability and criminal use of assault weapons and large capacity magazines? How might we use these reports to inform our work on this topic?
  • Assess trends in mass shootings with guns having large capacity magazines as documented by the Violence Policy Center (see “Mass Shootings in the United States Involving High Capacity Magazines”). Has there been an increase in the rate of these shootings since the lifting of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004? What complications arise in the interpretation of these data? (Think especially about issues regarding the measurement of outcomes as discussed by Rossi and colleagues.)
  • The report on mass murders compiled by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) covers mass shootings that occurred from 2009 through Sept. 2013. Cross-reference the MAIG cases with cases reported for the same time period in the Violence Policy Center’s (VPC) report on mass shootings with large capacity magazines. Provide adjusted estimates of the number and percentage of the MAIG cases that likely involved assault weapons and large capacity magazines based the sum of: 1) cases that match to the VPC shooting list; 2) cases in which an assault weapon or likely assault weapon was identified (i.e., cases in which a specific assault weapon model was identified or in which the gun was identified generically as an “assault rifle”); and 3) cases involving Glock semiautomatic handguns (which typically have large capacity magazines). Contrast the average number of victims killed and wounded in these likely AW/LCM cases with those in other cases.


Due Oct. 30th:

  • Summarize the measures, methods, and key findings of the outcome analyses presented in the 2004 assault weapons report. What do these analyses suggest about the effects of the federal assault weapons ban on: 1) the availability of assault weapons and large capacity magazines; 2) crimes with assault weapons and large capacity magazines; and 3) gun violence? Use chapters 7 and 9 of Rossi et al. to identify strengths and weaknesses of the methods and measures used in the evaluation of the assault weapons ban.


Due Oct. 16th:

  • Define the distinctions made by Rossi et al. between outcome levels, outcome changes, and program effects. How would these concepts apply to an assessment of the effects of the federal assault weapons ban on gun murder rates?
  • Discuss the desirable properties of evaluation outcome measures as identified by Rossi et al. Identify one possible outcome measure for evaluating assault weapon bans and discuss how these properties apply to that measure.
  • What is a randomized experiment and why is it the strongest type of impact evaluation design?
  • Evaluations of assault weapons bans (at the federal and state levels) have been evaluated using only quasi-experimental designs. What sources of bias might this have introduced into those evaluations? Drawing upon Rossi et al.’s discussion of quasi-experiments, describe a quasi-experimental outcome evaluation strategy that one might use to evaluate a federal or state assault weapons ban and discuss how that strategy would compensate for the potential biases of non-randomized evaluations


Due Oct. 9th:

  • Define the three key elements of program theory as discussed by Rossi and colleagues (i.e., the impact theory, the service utilization plan, and the organizational plan).
  • Discuss the impact theory underlying the federal assault weapons ban, identifying both proximal and distal outcomes that might have been impacted by the ban. Use the evidence presented in Chapter 9 of the Koper assault weapons report (see assigned pages) to assess this theory, particularly as it pertained to reducing gun violence (or particular aspects of gun violence). In your answer, draw upon Rossi et al.’s discussion of evaluating program theory in relation to social needs, logic and plausibility, and prior research and practice.
  • Imagine that you have been asked to evaluate a law that: 1) prohibits production, sale, and possession of new assault weapons and large capacity magazines; 2) requires registration of pre-ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines; and 3) forbids owners of grandfathered assault weapons and large capacity magazines from transferring them to others. What questions would you raise in assessing the service utilization and organizational plans associated with this policy?


Due Oct. 2nd:

  • Discuss the rationales described by Cook (1981) for banning particular types of firearms. Also discuss how these arguments apply (or don’t apply) to bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines.
  • Although a formal needs assessment was not conducted before the passage of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, what analyses presented in the 2004 evaluation report were relevant to assessing the need for this law? How do those analyses link to the concepts presented by Rossi and colleagues?
  • What types of analyses would you recommend for a new needs assessment on the assault weapons issue?  How would those analyses be relevant to assessing the need for new assault weapons legislation?


Due Sept. 25th:

Rossi et al. Chapter 1

  • What is program evaluation and what purposes does it serve? What social trends gave rise to the field of social evaluation research? Discuss two of the main challenges to doing program evaluation in practice.

Rossi et al. Chapter 2

  • Define the primary types of evaluation questions discussed by Rossi et al., and briefly discuss how each might be applied to the study of assault weapons legislation.

Assault weapons readings (Koper report & state law summaries)

  • Discuss the main provisions (restrictions and exemptions) of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban. In general, how do current state laws restricting assault weapons and large capacity magazines compare to the old federal ban? Do they tend to be more or less restrictive than the federal ban and in what ways?


Due Sept. 18th: 

Cook and colleagues

  • Discuss the three perspectives on gun control described by Cook and colleagues. How might these perspectives clash in debates over gun policy?
  • Provide a brief summary of the main strategies that Cook and colleagues describe for controlling gun violence. Where would bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines fit within this classification of strategies?

Kwon and Baack
(Note: for those of you not familiar with the methodology, the authors estimated a mathematical model predicting state-level gun death rates as a function of state gun laws and other state characteristics. Predictors denoted as having a “p” level of less than 0.05 are considered to be statistically meaningful predictors.)

  • How did the authors measure gun control legislation and why did they take this approach? What is their key finding about the impact of gun control legislation on gun deaths? What is a limitation of their study for assessing the impact of gun control on gun crime?


  • What factors explain the success of gun control opponents in influencing gun policy? Why have gun control proponents been comparatively less successful? To what extent does gun policy reflect public opinion?


Due Sept. 11th:

  • Discuss the concept of weapon instrumentality and its manifestations as described by Cook and colleagues. How did Zimring analyze this issue in his 1968 study, and what were his key conclusions?
  • How does gun availability among the population affect the volume, nature, and lethality of violence? In your answer, draw upon the analyses conducted by Cook and colleagues, Zimring and Hawkins, and Hemenway and colleagues.


Due Sept. 4th:

  • What were the key elements of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Heller case? Drawing on the Court’s decision and Spitzer’s broader discussion of gun control, what social and/or legal implications might the Heller case have for prohibition of assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines?
  • The study by Hepburn and colleagues describes major patterns of gun ownership in the United States. What relevance might these patterns have for debates over assault weapons?
  • What have been some of the key patterns and trends in gun violence since the early 1990s? How might these trends be relevant to studying the assault weapons issue?

Class Readings