The Hidden Arm of the Law: Examining Administrative Justice in Gun Carry Licensing

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8 Scopus citations


Responding to calls to “decenter” American penality beyond the carceral apparatus, this article ethnographically examines administrative process and dissects how it interlocks with criminal justice. To do so, it draws on an admittedly unusual, but theoretically generative, case: administrative gun boards, charged with issuing, denying, revoking, and suspending licenses to conceal carry a firearm. While scholars have examined gun ownership and gun carrying as a social practice, less attention has been paid to gun licensing as a state practice. Drawing on observations of over 900 cases from gun board meetings in two counties in Michigan, this paper examines how administrative process mimics, supplements, and facilitates criminal justice through three mechanisms: procedural pains, in which administrative process resembles criminal justice; parallel punishment, in which administrative process supplements criminal justice through withholding of benefits, entitlements or licenses; and valve-turning, in which administrative process funnels, or threatens to funnel, claimants into the criminal justice system. Revealing how administrative process and criminal justice become mutually reinforcing, the findings extend and integrate scholarship that shows the material, symbolic, and psychic implications of criminal justice contact, on the one hand, with the increased tendency of administrative contexts to resemble criminal justice institutions, on the other.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)346-378
Number of pages33
JournalLaw and Society Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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