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What Works to Reduce Community Gun Violence?

created by

Mark Obbie

Solutions Journalism Network and freelance criminal justice journalist

Canandaigua, NY, USA

Print Reporter/Digital Reporter/Staff Writer

America has multiple gun-violence problems, from mass shootings to domestic violence to violent felonies like robbery committed with the gun as an essential tool. But the category of crime that accounts for the most violent deaths in America is community violence, also known as urban violence or street violence. While violent crime in America has fallen roughly by half since its most recent peak in the early 1990s, it remains stubbornly persistent in geographically tiny corners of our cities, among small numbers of people, mostly young men, for strikingly similar reasons – namely, a dire set of social conditions ready-made to turn mundane interpersonal "beefs" deadly because of the plentiful supply of guns. Shockingly, it stands as the leading cause of death, by far, for young Black men in particular.

Addressing the underlying social problems is an obviously necessary long-term project, but that's too diffuse to save lives in the short term. Responses highly targeted to those at highest risk of violence have a good deal of evidence that they can help reduce violence, particularly because the immediate behavioral causes of street violence are so predictable – and, thus, more preventable – than most other forms of violence. Though violence research has been starved of federal funding, a good deal still is known about what works to prevent community gun violence. That's where a few caveats are needed. First, some of the most effective responses to community violence, at least according to the weight of the scientific evidence, have been policing strategies that when performed carelessly can easily careen into abusive treatment of neighborhoods in ways that can actually make bad situations worse. Next, there's no single solution. Rather, the greatest success stories have sprung from blended approaches tailored to circumstances and balancing a complicated set of values.

This collection, which will be kept updated, keeps both that science and those downsides in mind while shining a light on the most hopeful approaches to reducing community gun violence.

Stories In This Collection (11)

This Kansas City neighborhood wrote the blueprint for transforming a community

Grist

Text / 1500-3000 Words

The Kansas City neighborhood of Ivanhoe was once plagued by blight, illegal dumping, drug trade, gun violence, and neglect; neighbors lived in fear or moved away. Inspired by one compassionate and proactive family, the Youngs, the community stepped up, partnering with the local university and a c...

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What Gun Violence Prevention Looks Like When It Focuses on the Communities Hurt the Most

The Trace

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Across the United States, gun violence prevention initiatives are finally turning their attention to the urban communities hit hardest and supporting community-driven approaches. In the past, financial support has gone to linear, legislative approaches to gun control that often favor white commun...

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The police experiment that changed what we know about foot patrol

WHYY

Radio / 5-15 Minutes

Of the three most notable experiments testing the effectiveness of police foot patrols at reducing crime, only one – the Philadelphia Foot Patrol Experiment – showed a significant reduction in violence, thanks to a three-month randomized controlled trial. By rethinking an old practice and infusin...

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I looked for a state that's taking gun violence seriously. I found Massachusetts.

Vox

Text / Over 3000 Words

Massachusetts' strict gun-licensing laws make gun buyers jump through many hoops before they can buy and possess a firearm, part of a broader set of policies and factors that give the state the lowest gun death rate in the U.S. A permit-to-purchase law treats guns much like cars, with license and...

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The surprising way to stop shootings that doesn't involve more cops and arrests

Mother Jones

Text / Over 3000 Words

After two failed attempts, Oakland Ceasefire retooled its approach and since 2013 has been a significant factor in lowering homicides and nonfatal shootings. The program, used in various ways in many cities, identifies young men at high risk of getting shot or shooting others and then offers them...

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Homicides dropped after Philly gangs signed a 1974 peace pact. What can we learn from the org that brokered the truce?

Billy Penn

Text / 1500-3000 Words

The House of Umoja in West Philadelphia, created in the late 1960s in response to high rates of gang violence, succeeded in helping thousands of young men through a residential treatment program, mediating disputes peacefully, and brokering a gang truce credited with lowering Philadelphia violenc...

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Brokering peace on the South Side

NBC News

Broadcast TV News / 5-15 Minutes

Outreach workers with CRED (Create Real Economic Destiny) in Chicago's Roseland neighborhood are paid under a city grant to de-escalate and mediate disputes among the same gangs that some of the workers once belonged to. Able to win the trust of people who distrust the police, CRED's violence pre...

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An oft-tried plan to curb violent crime in Baltimore resurfaces. City leaders say better leadership will bring better results.

The Baltimore Sun

Text / 800-1500 Words

In the 1990s and again in 2014, when Baltimore used a strategy called focused deterrence to reduce street violence, it showed initial promise but then failed. Those failures can be tied to how the program was managed, and to changes in leadership, not to the approach itself. The strategy offers h...

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In a career born in her own grief, violence recovery specialist works at a Chicago hospital in a city under siege

Chicago Tribune

Text / 1500-3000 Words

Since the 2018 opening of a trauma-care center near the neighborhoods most affected by Chicago's gun violence, the University of Chicago Medical Center's Violence Recovery Program has helped survivors and victims' families to address the emotional harm that can go untreated when only physical har...

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After shootings hit new high, Durham to spend $935,000 on an alternative to police

The News & Observer

Text / 800-1500 Words

Because two Durham neighborhoods using the Cure Violence method of "violence interruption" bucked the citywide trend toward higher gun violence, the city will expand its Bull City United violence-prevention program to four more neighborhoods. The additional $935,488 cost will pay for 16 employees...

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City program sends personal message about gun violence

Albuquerque Journal

Text / 800-1500 Words

Albuquerque police make house calls to deliver a carrot-and-stick message to people at high risk of getting shot or shooting others. The Violence Intervention Program's "custom notifications" target people based on their criminal record or victimization in gun violence. The message: accept the of...

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