Community Gun Violence
- Where does Community Gun Violence Occur?
- Who is Impacted by Community Violence?
- What Factors Influence Community Gun Violence?
- How Does Community Gun Violence Impact Health and Wellbeing?
- How Can Community Gun Violence be Prevented?
- Effective Violence Intervention and Prevention Programs
- Comprehensive Investments in Violence Intervention and Prevention Programs
- Address the underlying social and economic inequalities that drive firearm violence
Community gun violence is a form of interpersonal gun violence (assaults) that takes place between non-intimately related individuals in cities. This form of gun violence disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals. It occurs in public places — streets, parks, front porches — in cities across the United States, and it makes up the majority of gun homicides that occur in the United States.4 Most community gun violence is highly concentrated within under-resourced city neighborhoods. As a result, whole neighborhoods are exposed to and impacted by the adverse health effects of gun violence.5 The neighborhoods disproportionately affected by community gun violence are the same neighborhoods impacted by social and economic inequities that can be traced to racism, segregation, and current discriminatory policies, like redlining, exclusionary zoning, and mass incarceration.6,7 These inequities often are at the root of community gun violence. Consequently, Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans are disproportionately impacted by community gun violence.
Community Gun Violence
Community gun violence is a form of interpersonal gun violence (assaults) that:8
- Takes place in under-resourced city neighborhoods
- Disproportionately impacts Black and Hispanic/Latino communities — specifically young Black and Hispanic/Latino men
- Usually occurs outside of the home in a public setting
- Occurs between individuals who are not intimately related (not domestic violence)
- Often is sparked by a dispute between individuals or groups and may be retaliatory as a result of long-standing conflicts
- Sometimes referred to as “urban violence” or “group violence”
Where does Community Gun Violence Occur?
Community gun violence is highly concentrated in a small number of under-resourced city neighborhoods composed of predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latino residents. These neighborhoods suffer from underfunded social services, few economic opportunities, and concentrated poverty.9
Most community gun violence occurs in cities. For example, over half of all firearm homicides in 2015 occurred in just 127 cities.10 These cities have firearm homicide rates far higher than the national average. The following table illustrates the large central metro counties11 (cities) that had the highest rates of firearm homicides from 2015-2019.
Urban Counties with the Highest Firearm Homicide Rates, 2015-2019
|Average annual firearm homicides (2015-2019)
|Age-adjusted firearm homicide rate (per 100,000 people)
|Times higher than the national firearm homicide rate
|St. Louis city, MO
|Baltimore city, MD
|Orleans Parish, LA (New Orleans)
|Jefferson County, AL (Birmingham)
|Shelby County, TN (Memphis)
|Jackson County, MO (Kansas City)
|Philadelphia County, PA
|Wayne County, MI (Detroit)
|Richmond city, VA
|Marion County, IN (Indianapolis)
|District of Columbia, DC
|Milwaukee County, WI
|Cook County, IL (Chicago)
|Jefferson County, KY (Louisville)
|Cuyahoga County, OH (Cleveland)
Source: CDC WONDER.
We define urban counties as large central metro counties as classified by the National Center for Health Statistics.
All rates listed are age-adjusted in order to allow for accurate comparisons between populations with differing age distributions.
Firearm Homicide Rates vs. Total Number of Firearm Homicides
Because the population varies significantly by city or county, firearm homicide rates provide a better illustration of the impact gun violence has on communities, rather than the total number of firearm homicides within a given area.
For example, Cook County (Chicago), Illinois has by far the most number of firearm homicides out of any county in the country, averaging over 600 each year. However, because Cook County has a population of 5.2 million residents, the firearm homicide rate is much lower than many other large metro counties with smaller populations. In fact, Cook County’s firearm homicide rate is 11.62 per 100,000, ranking it 13th in the country among large central metro counties, behind Milwaukee County.12,13 Clearly, the sheer number of firearm homicides illustrates that Cook County is in the midst of a gun violence crisis, but this crisis is not unique to Chicago; it is equally devastating in cities across the United States.
Even within the cities that have high firearm homicide rates, community gun violence is highly concentrated within under-resourced neighborhoods. For example, an analysis of firearm homicide data from 2015 found that 26% of all firearm homicides in the United States occurred in census tracts that contained only 1.5% of the American population.14 This illustrates how gun violence within cities is often confined to a few under-resourced neighborhoods where predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans live. In Saint Louis, for example, 42% of the city’s murders in 2015 occurred in just 8 out of the city’s 79 residential neighborhoods.15 During that year, nine people were murdered by firearm in nine separate shootings, all confined to one 0.4 square mile census tract.16
Small social networks
Despite the high rates of violence within such impacted communities, only a small portion of the population is involved in gun violence, and those involved are often both the perpetrator and victim.17,18,19 Analyses in a variety of cities have found that small networks of individuals — sometimes as few as a couple hundred — are involved in most of the city’s shootings. In Oakland, for instance, just 0.1% of the population was responsible for the majority of the city’s homicides,20 while in New Orleans, networks of 600 to 700 individuals are linked to most of the city’s murders.21 Even within Chicago’s highest violence neighborhoods, those who have a social network in which someone was murdered are 900% more likely to die of homicide than neighboring residents.22 The vast majority of homicides in each of these cities are by firearm.
Who is Impacted by Community Violence?
Community gun violence is highly concentrated within neighborhoods composed of predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latino residents. These neighborhoods face a host of systemic inequalities — hypersegregation, discrimination, lack of economic opportunities, and under-resourced public services.23,24 As a result, young Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans, particularly males, are disproportionately impacted by community gun violence.
Black Americans are more than ten times more likely to be murdered by firearm than their White counterparts.25 Over the past decade (2010-2019), 71,994 Black Americans died by firearm homicide; the vast majority of these victims were young males. Young Black males ages 15-34 make up 2% of the U.S. population but account for 37% of all firearm homicide victims.26 Gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black males ages 15-34.27
Black females are also disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Black females are nearly four times more likely to be victims of gun violence than White females. This disparity is even more pronounced among teen and young adult females. Young Black females ages 15-24 are seven times more likely to be murdered by firearm than their White counterparts.28
Hispanic/Latino Americans are more than twice as likely to be murdered by firearms than White (non Hispanic/Latino) Americans.29 Over the past decade (2010-2019), 20,184 Hispanic/Latino Americans have been murdered by firearms, more than 60% of whom are males ages 15-34. Gun violence is the second leading cause of death for Hispanic/Latino males under the age of 34, and Hispanic/Latino males ages 15-34 are 3.4 times more likely to be murdered by firearm than their White (non Hispanic/Latino) counterparts.30
Hispanic/Latina females are also disproportionately impacted by gun violence, especially young females. Young Hispanic/Latino females ages 15-24 are nearly twice as likely to be murdered by firearm than White (non Hispanic/Latino) females.31
Female Firearm Homicide Rates,2015-2019
Age-adjusted rate per 100,000
Source: CDC WONDER.
Male Firearm Homicide Rates,2015-2019
Age-adjusted rate per 100,000
Source: CDC WONDER.
Firearm Homicide Rates byDisproportionately Impacted Populations,2015-2019
Age-adjusted rate per 100,000
Disproportionately impacted population
in large central
in large central
Source: CDC WONDER.
What Factors Influence Community Gun Violence?
Social and economic inequalities are often at the root cause of community gun violence. These inequalities are caused by racist policies like redlining and exclusionary zoning laws that target communities of color and create segregated and underinvested neighborhoods.32 The same neighborhoods struggling with community gun violence also face a number of economic challenges including the lack of access to healthy food, shortage of affordable housing, inadequate education, few jobs, and limited opportunities.33,34
Within many neighborhoods with high rates of violence, the unemployment rate is over 20%.35 The typical household within a high poverty neighborhood has a net worth of $7,000 — 40 times less than the typical household in a low poverty neighborhood.36 Likewise, there is a lack of educational opportunities, as the schools are chronically underfunded. School districts with a majority of Black, Hispanic/Latino, and/or American Indian students receive considerably less state and local funding compared to affluent school districts serving White students. School districts that serve the largest populations of Black, Hispanic/Latino, or American Indian students receive 13% less per student in state and local funding compared to the districts serving the fewest students of color.37 As a result, many of these neighborhoods have under-qualified instructors, outdated curricula, and dilapidated facilities, all of which impact student development and wellbeing.38 Over a quarter of adults living in high poverty neighborhoods lack a high school diploma and only 14% have attained a bachelor’s degree.39 These deep structural disadvantages combined with easy access to guns create the conditions for community gun violence.
The conditions that increase the likelihood of community gun violence include:
- Easy access to guns by people at elevated risk for violence40
- Income inequality41
- Concentrated poverty42
- Underfunded public housing43
- Under-resourced public services44
- Underperforming schools45
- Lack of opportunity and perceptions of hopelessness46
- Police brutality and lack of police legitimacy.46
Police Brutality and Discrimination Influence Community Gun Violence
Police legitimacy is the way community members trust in, and are willing to work with, the police. It is a vital component in reducing community gun violence. When communities view the police force as legitimate they are more willing to work with law enforcement to identify and detain those responsible for committing acts of gun violence, and to intervene before conflicts develop into shootings. Likewise, when police legitimacy is strong, victims of violence feel safe and can rely on formal channels of justice to bring about closure, instead of resorting to retaliation.46
Police brutality and widespread discrimination undermine police legitimacy, and thereby fuel community gun violence. In many Black and Brown communities distrust in law enforcement stems from a legacy of racist policies and state-sanctioned violence, often carried out by police. Compounded upon this history is the ongoing crisis of mass incarceration and police brutality.46 Research consistently highlights racial disparities at virtually every step within the criminal justice system. Black males are stopped by police, arrested, denied bail, wrongfully convicted, issued longer sentences, and shot by police at much higher rates than White Americans.46
Unsurprisingly, when individuals experience police discrimination or brutality they are less likely to trust or rely on law enforcement. Consequently, these community members are reticent to report criminal activity or act as witnesses in criminal investigations. Instead, some rely on informal channels of justice – like retaliatory violence – to resolve conflict.46 A 2016 study examined the relationships between police brutality, police legitimacy, and homicide rates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The authors examined the highly publicized, brutal beating of an unarmed Black man, Frank Jude, by Milwaukee police officers in 2004. The authors found that in the year after the beating, calls for police services dropped dramatically in the city, particularly in underserved Black and Brown neighborhoods. In the year following the beating there were 22,200 fewer 911 calls. This decrease in 911 calls coincided with a spike in homicides. In the six months following this beating, homicides in Milwaukee increased by 32%.46 The authors conclude that this one act of police brutality eroded trust in law enforcement and likely contributed to increases in gun violence. This study illustrates how police brutality is both unconscionable in its own right and may fuel community gun violence.
How Does Community Gun Violence Impact Health and Wellbeing?
The trauma of community gun violence extends beyond those who are directly injured by a shooting to those in the community who are exposed indirectly as a witness. Those indirectly and directly impacted by community gun violence experience lasting impacts on health and wellbeing.
Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans are exposed to community gun violence — by witnessing a shooting or knowing a loved one impacted — at much higher rates than White (non Hispanic/Latino) Americans. The widespread exposure to community gun violence impacts health, wellbeing, and development. This trauma exacerbates existing health and social inequalities and further perpetuates gun violence.
“Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Achieving this requires removing structural inequities such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.”47
Exposure to Gun Violence
Each year, more than 35,600 Americans survive gun assaults, and the victims and their families must cope with the associated physical pain and mental trauma.48 The trauma of community gun violence extends beyond those who are directly injured by a shooting to those in the community who are exposed as a witness, a neighbor, classmate, or acquaintance. This indirect exposure to community gun violence is often wide-spread within many under-resourced Black and Hispanic/Latino communities. As a result, millions of Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans are coping with the adverse health impacts of community gun violence.
Nationally, Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans report being exposed to violence at rates twice that of White Americans.49 A 2018 nationally representative poll of American adults found that 27% of Black Americans had witnessed a shooting and 23% reported that someone they care for has been killed by a gun. Among Hispanic/Latino Americans, 22% reported that someone they cared for has been killed by a gun.50 Over 45% of Black and Hispanic/Latino American respondents stated that gun violence was either a major problem or somewhat problematic within their neighborhood, compared to just 27% of White Americans.51
Exposure to gun violence within under-resourced Black and Hispanic/Latino neighborhoods is often routine, even for children. A number of studies have found that between 50% to 95% of youth surveyed in under-resourced neighborhoods have either witnessed a shooting, an assault, or heard gunshots.52 For example, a representative sample of Chicago youth in 80 different neighborhoods spanning nine years found that 43% of boys and 28% of girls had seen someone else who was shot or shot at with a gun within the past two years. This study found that within these Chicago neighborhoods, the odds of being exposed to violence were 74% higher for Hispanic/Latino youth and 112% higher for Black youth when compared to White youth.53 This exposure to violence, especially for youth and children, impacts health and wellbeing both in the short term and the long term.
Impacts on health and wellbeing
Gun violence exposure has lasting impacts on health, wellbeing, and development if left untreated.54 Research suggests that gun violence exposure among children and teens can change the chemistry in the brain, severely impacting cognitive and emotional development.55 For example, one study found that 65% of youth indirectly exposed to community gun violence, by hearing gunshots or witnessing a shooting, reported being extremely distressed. The majority of those exposed reported negative changes to their behavior as a result of this violence, such as being less likely to travel outside alone, avoiding certain locations, staying home from school, and carrying guns for protection.56
When individuals are afraid to leave their homes and develop relationships with neighbors and peers, their physical and mental health are impacted. As a result, youth exposed to community gun violence are more likely to be physically inactive, exhibit antisocial behaviors, act aggressively, and perform poorly in school.57,58
Exposure to community gun violence is also linked to an increased likelihood of engaging in violent behavior. For example, a study examining 500 Black American youth living in under-resourced neighborhoods in Virginia found that direct exposure to violence was the best predictor of whether an individual would later engage in gun-related crimes.59
Exposure to community gun violence is associated with posttraumatic stress disorder, antisocial behavior, depression, anxiety, stunted cognitive and emotional development, and risky alcohol and substance use.60,61,62,63 It is also linked to long term poor chronic health conditions. Research consistently finds that those exposed to community violence as children are at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, lung disease, diabetes, and hepatitis.64,65
Exposure to gun violence is associated with:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Antisocial behavior
- Stunted cognitive and emotional development
- Risky alcohol and substance use
- High rates of chronic disease
- Increased likelihood in engaging in violence
Impacts on Economic health
Community gun violence adversely impacts economic opportunities and exacerbates the conditions that fuel gun violence within already under-resourced neighborhoods.66,67 When communities experience high rates of gun violence, residents who have the resources move to safer neighborhoods and housing prices plummet. For example, a study of gun violence in Minneapolis found that one additional homicide in a given census tract was associated with a $22,000 decrease in average home values.68
Businesses in neighborhoods with high rates of gun violence are also likely to relocate to safer areas where their customers feel safer shopping in public. City-specific analyses found that in DC, for example, ten additional gunshots in a census tract in a given year were linked to one fewer new business opening, one more business closing, and 20 fewer jobs in new establishments that same year.69 A similar analysis in Oakland found that an additional gun homicide each year was related to five fewer job opportunities in that neighborhood the subsequent year.70
As residents and businesses move out of high violence communities, city revenue generated from property and sales taxes decreases. Thus, cities are unable to pay for the public services needed to support communities living in poverty and facing high rates of violence. The decreased city tax revenue causes cities to cut funding to schools, social services, and programs that build community and provide opportunity, even as the demand for these services has increased.
Neighborhoods exposed to increased community gun violence are caught in a cycle of economic disinvestment, diminishing public services, and as a result, further increases in violence. These economic impacts of gun violence drive the conditions that fuel additional gun violence and concentrated disadvantage.71
Impacts on Social Health
Community gun violence impacts the social ties that are linked to community cohesiveness, opportunity, and health. When individuals feel isolated, afraid to leave their homes, interact with neighbors, and participate in community functions, the health of the overall community is adversely impacted. Researchers have found that social engagement, civic participation, and connection within a neighborhood increase opportunity and help protect against violence and poverty.72
When residents have close ties and mutual trust with their neighbors, they can rely on each other for support and collectively maintain social order within their neighborhood. When these social ties are healthy, neighbors are more willing to intervene on behalf of the common good, deescalate feuds, and prevent conflicts from erupting in gunfire.73 Reducing community gun violence is a key component of promoting healthy social networks, and spurring economic opportunity can help those in under-resourced neighborhoods escape poverty and disadvantage.74
How Can Community Gun Violence be Prevented?
“Gun violence is a multifaceted challenge that demands a holistic set of solutions to stop the cycles of daily gun violence in the most impacted communities. Those who are closest to the pain need to be closest to the power.”
- Lauren Footman, Director of Outreach and Equity
Reduce the flow of illegal guns into impacted communities
Stemming the flow of illegal guns into communities of color is vital to reducing community gun violence. There are no federally licensed firearms dealers in many communities most impacted by gun violence, yet there is often an abundance of firearms. In Washington, DC, for example, there is one federally licensed firearms dealer for the entire city. Yet, the ATF reported 2,095 recovered firearms at crime scenes in 2018 alone and only 43 were traced back to an original purchase in DC.75 The majority of firearms are brought into DC from other states, often by firearm traffickers. These firearm traffickers buy firearms in bulk in states with lax firearm purchasing laws and illegally sell these guns in the underground market. Within just five months in 2015, one man illegally trafficked 224 guns from Virginia into DC, selling guns out of the trunk of his rental car to whoever would buy, and even supplying guns to rivals in an ongoing feud.76 This case illuminates the gaps in federal and state laws that allow firearms to be diverted into the underground gun market.
Gun violence prevention policies that prevent firearms trafficking play an important role in reducing community gun violence. These laws include universal background checks, lost and stolen firearm reporting laws, and firearm licensing laws.
- Universal background checks: Universal background checks require that a background check be conducted on all firearm sales and transfers. Research suggests that state laws requiring universal background checks reduce the number of guns that enter the illegal market within a state, which often fuels gun violence in cities.77 They also are linked to a 29% decrease in crime guns trafficked across state lines.78
- Lost and stolen firearm reporting laws: Each year an estimated 380,000 firearms are stolen in the U.S yet only 240,000 are reported to law enforcement.79,80 This suggests that an estimated 140,000 gun thefts are not reported to law enforcement each year. Laws that require gun owners to promptly report lost or stolen firearms to law enforcement can help prevent firearm trafficking. These laws both increase gun seller accountability and provide police with a tool to combat firearm traffickers. States that have lost and stolen firearm reporting laws were associated with 30% lower rates of crime gun exports to other states compared to states without such laws.81
- Licensing: Firearm licensing laws, also known as permit to purchase, require an individual to qualify for and obtain a license before acquiring or owning a firearm. The licensing process is similar to obtaining a driver’s license. Individuals generally must fill out an in-person application at the police department, be fingerprinted, and undergo a comprehensive criminal background check. Licensing laws are found to be effective at deterring individuals who commit violent crimes and gun traffickers from obtaining firearms. For example, the repeal of Missouri’s licensing law was associated with the increased diversion of guns into the illegal market.82 Research also shows that licensing laws are an effective policy to prevent firearm homicides. Licensing laws are associated with an 11% reduction in firearm homicides in urban counties.83 Likewise, an analysis of Connecticut’s licensing law found it was associated with a 40% reduction in firearm homicides.84
Improve Police Accountability and Strengthen Police Legitimacy through Procedurally Just Policing Practices
Strong gun violence prevention laws, like firearm licensing laws that require individuals to obtain a license before purchasing a firearm, must be paired with measures to ensure police accountability. In order for police officers to enforce gun laws in an effective and equitable manner they need to be viewed by community members as legitimate. Many Black and Brown communities across America are apprehensive to trust law enforcement and often are reluctant to partner with police to act as witnesses and prevent violence. Given the long history of state sanctioned violence, racism, and mass incarceration often carried out by the criminal justice system, this reticence is understandable. Policymakers and police departments must work to mend these relationships. They can do this by building authentic relationships with communities and enacting police reforms that include:
- Requiring de-escalation before using physical force.
- Creating independent processes to investigate misconduct or excessive use of force.
- Ensuring police who use excessive force are held accountable for their actions by reforming legal structures, like qualified immunity, that insulate police from facing sanctions for misconduct.
- Banning the use of chokeholds and other dangerous neck restraints.
- Requiring officers to intervene when excessive force is used by another officer and immediately report these incidents to superiors.
- Prohibiting no-knock warrants and requiring officers to announce themselves before entering private property.
- Restricting the transfer of military equipment to police and the use of such equipment by police departments.
- Mandating that police officers use deadly force as a last resort only after they have exhausted all other measures.
- Requiring police departments to comprehensively report all use of force instances.
- Prohibiting profiling by law enforcement based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, proficiency with the English language, immigration status, and housing status.
- Vigorously enforcing the Department of Justice’s “pattern or practice” authority to investigate and sue law enforcement agencies that use unconstitutional policing practices.
In addition to adopting these reforms, police departments must work towards adopting procedurally just practices. Procedural justice requires a long-term commitment from law enforcement leaders to institute a culture in which police see the community as authentic partners and respond to the expressed needs of the community. In order for these partnerships to take root there must be a law enforcement culture of transparency and citizen oversight. Community members should have a voice in the decision making process and decisions should be made in a fair and neutral way.,81 81
When police adopt procedurally just policing techniques to build trust they can more effectively work with community members to solve gun crimes, prevent future violence, and co-produce public safety. Witnesses will be more likely to work with police to bring about justice to victims and their families and prevent retaliation. Likewise, increased trust promotes intelligence sharing with community stakeholders to identify those at risk of being involved in gun violence and connect those individuals to behavioral and community support before they perpetrate gun violence.
Violence intervention and prevention programs
Community-based violence intervention efforts work with those impacted by gun violence to reduce the cycles of community gun violence, address the underlying causes of gun violence, and promote health equity. Community-based violence intervention and prevention programs bring together community members, social service providers, and, in some cases, law enforcement to identify and provide support for individuals at highest risk for gun violence. They also help individuals cope with the trauma that is associated with living in neighborhoods where witnessing gun violence is routine.
Violence intervention and prevention programs generally:
- Deter individuals at high risk for violence from engaging in firearm violence
- Help individuals at high risk for violence resolve potentially violent disputes before they occur
- Connect those at high risk for violence to education, employment, and housing services
- Provide peer mentoring, trauma-informed services, and culturally responsive mental health support to individuals impacted by daily gun violence
- Authentically engage community members to build trust and collaboration between stakeholders
Effective Violence Intervention and Prevention Programs
Street Outreach and Violence Interruption Programs
In the street outreach or violence interruption model, outreach workers are trained to identify conflicts within their community and help resolve disputes before they spiral into gun violence. These outreach workers are credible members of the community and well-respected by individuals at a high risk of violence. Outreach workers use their credibility to interrupt cycles of retaliatory violence, help connect high risk individuals to social services, and change norms around using guns to solve conflicts.
Evidence: Violence interruption programs, like the Cure Violence model, have been used successfully in multiple cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York. New York’s neighborhoods with a violence interruption site experienced 18% reductions in homicides from 2010-2013 while the matched control neighborhoods experienced a 69% increase during those same years.85
Group Violence Intervention / Focused Deterrence
In the Group Violence Intervention/Focused Deterrence model, prosecutors and police work with community leaders to identify a small group of individuals who are chronic violent offenders and are at high risk for future violence. High risk individuals are called into a meeting and are told that if violence continues, every legal tool available will be used to ensure they face swift and certain consequences. These individuals are simultaneously connected to social services and community support to assist them in changing their behavior.
Evidence: An analysis of 24 focused deterrence programs found that these strategies led to an overall statistically significant reduction in firearm violence. The most successful of these programs have reduced violent crime in cities by an average of 30% and improved relations between law enforcement officers and the neighborhoods they serve.86
Hospital-based Violence Intervention Programs
Hospital-based violence intervention programs provide gunshot victims admitted into hospitals with wraparound services such as educational support, job training, and culturally responsive mental health services to interrupt retaliatory cycles of violence and reduce the potential for re-injury.
Evidence: One study found that those enrolled in these programs were six times less likely to be hospitalized again for a violent injury and four times less likely to be convicted of a violent crime than those not enrolled in the program.87 Likewise, an evaluation of Baltimore’s program found that it saved the city $1.25 million in lowered incarceration costs and $598,000 in reduced healthcare costs.88
Trauma-informed Programs With Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Trauma-informed programs that employ cognitive behavioral therapy for those at risk for firearm violence have experienced significant decreases in firearm violence.89 Cognitive behavioral therapy helps high risk individuals cope with trauma while simultaneously providing new tools to de-escalate conflict.
Evidence: Trauma-informed programs in Chicago that provide high risk youth with cognitive behavioral therapy and mentoring cut violent crime arrests in half.90
Shooting And Homicide Review Commissions
Shooting review commissions bring together law enforcement, community members, criminal justice stakeholders, and service providers to examine firearm violence within their community. Stakeholders collaboratively develop comprehensive interventions that identify high risk individuals and address the underlying factors that lead to violence.
Evidence: The shooting review commission in Milwaukee was associated with a significant and sustained 52% reduction in homicides.91 A Department of Justice evaluation found shooting review boards to be an effective way to reduce gun violence by building trust between criminal justice stakeholders and the community.92
Comprehensive Investments in Violence Intervention and Prevention Programs
Numerous studies have found that when properly funded and implemented, community-based violence intervention and prevention efforts reduce gun violence. For example, Connecticut’s state-funded group violence intervention program was associated with a 21% decrease in shootings in New Haven each month that the program was in effect.93 These programs are most effective when cities invest in comprehensive intervention and prevention efforts that engage a wide range of city stakeholders and community leaders. The City of Oakland, for example, used both state and city funds to invest in comprehensive community-based gun violence intervention and prevention efforts to reduce gun violence by over 40%.94 These efforts were authentically led by community members, provided extensive wraparound services, and focused on improving relationships between the community and law enforcement.
Community groups in cities across the United States authentically engage in community-based violence prevention efforts and have done so for years. Yet only recently have state governments begun to seriously invest in these efforts. Five states (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, New York) have invested in violence intervention and prevention programs and have experienced reductions in firearm violence within state-funded program sites.95 Three additional states (New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) have recently invested in these programs.96
In addition to this state investment, many cities have begun funding community-based violence prevention efforts. For example, Los Angeles, New York City, and Oakland all allocate over $20 million each year towards violence intervention and prevention efforts, collaborating with a variety of city agencies and community partners.97 In addition to these major city investments, mid-sized cities across the United States have begun allocating funds towards violence intervention and prevention efforts. This includes cities like Kansas City, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and St Louis.98
Federal Funding for Trauma Informed Care
In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created a grants program aimed at supporting communities exposed to high rates of community gun violence and civil unrest. This program was called the Resiliency in Communities After Stress and Trauma (ReCAST) grants program and it provided millions of federal dollars to “to assist high-risk youth and families and promote resilience and equity in communities that have recently faced civil unrest through implementation of evidence-based, violence prevention, and community youth engagement programs, as well as linkages to trauma-informed behavioral health services.”108 Unfortunately, these grants are no longer available. There should be sustained federal grants programs, like ReCAST, that provide funding for trauma informed behavioral health services to help individuals and communities cope with the trauma of community gun violence.
Address the underlying social and economic inequalities that drive firearm violence
Underserved communities of color have been impacted by a legacy of racist social and economic policy. Policymakers should support efforts to address these systemic inequalities that are often at the root of gun violence. These investments will help improve health, promote opportunity, and reduce gun violence. These investments should include:
- Job training programs and youth development opportunities: Evidence suggests increased funding for job training programs and youth employment opportunities can help reduce gun violence.99 For example, an evaluation of Boston’s summer youth employment program, which provides city-subsidized jobs to youth through a lottery system, found that participants were 35% less likely to engage in violence in the 15 months after the program’s end compared to similar individuals who were not chosen through the lottery and thus not enrolled in the jobs program.100
- Recreation and community centers, after school programs, and other pro-social development programs: Increased funding for recreation and community centers, after school programs, and other pro-social development programs allow individuals to build stronger, safer communities by providing safe places for individuals — particularly youth — to interact. Close to half of all juvenile crime takes place from 2:00 PM to 8:00 PM.101 When individuals have safe and productive places to go after school, they are less likely to commit — or be a victim of — an act of violence. For example, one study found that under-resourced neighborhoods that had access to a recreation center had lower violent crime rates than similar neighborhoods without recreation centers.102
- Programs that clean and rehabilitate blighted and abandoned property: Funding for programs that clean and rehabilitate blighted and abandoned property are associated with both decreases in gun violence of up to 39% over one year and improved community health.102 These programs prevent gun violence by reducing the locations where illegal guns are stored and often where illegal activity linked to gun violence occurs. Likewise, these programs increase the connectedness between neighbors and strengthen the informal social controls that deter violence.
- Affordable, stable, and high quality housing: Improved access and availability to affordable, stable, and high quality housing is needed for individuals impacted by daily gun violence. Adequate housing is closely linked to gun violence. Neighborhoods where there are high foreclosure rates, vacant homes, and housing instability are more likely to experience community gun violence.104 Programs and policies that provide stable housing for returning citizens, revitalize vacant lots, prevent foreclosures, and create affordable pathways to homeownership can help reduce community gun violence.105
- Affordable health and mental health services that are culturally responsive and trauma informed: Access to affordable health care, including robust mental health services, is needed to support individuals experiencing trauma. Trauma informed health services can help improve health, wellbeing, and address risk factors for future violence.106 While there are evidence-based treatments to support those exposed to gun violence, individuals in impacted communities often lack access to these vital mental health services.107 These services should be made widely available within communities suffering from the trauma of community gun violence.
Enact and implement policies, programs, and practices that reduce easy access to firearms by people at elevated risk of interpersonal violence and invest in interventions that address the root causes of gun violence in structurally disadvantaged communities.
Laws that reduce easy access to firearms for people at risk of violence are associated with reductions in community violence. Additionally, addressing the root causes of gun violence through community-based gun violence prevention programs is an important part of community gun violence prevention. We recommend the following policies, programs, and practices to prevent community gun violence:
- Community-based gun violence prevention programs: Community-based violence prevention programs that interrupt cycles of violence and provide a wide range of social services to address the root causes of gun violence are essential to preventing shootings in communities impacted by daily gun violence. Federal, state, and local policymakers should invest in such programs as part of violence prevention efforts. Examples include:
- Street outreach and violence interruption programs
- Group Violence Intervention/ Focused deterrence
- Hospital-based violence intervention programs
- Trauma-informed programs that employ cognitive behavioral therapy
- Shooting review commissions
- Supporting community economic development: Social and economic inequalities are often at the root of gun violence. Supporting sustainable community economic development will help improve health, promote opportunity, and reduce gun violence. Federal, state and local policymakers should pass legislation to promote and adequately fund:
- Job training programs and youth development opportunities
- Recreation and community centers, after school programs, and other pro-social development programs
- Programs that clean and rehabilitate blighted and abandoned property
- Affordable, stable, and high quality housing
- Affordable health and mental health services that are culturally responsive and trauma informed
- Offices of violence prevention: Cities and counties have the power to effectively reduce violence through the creation of an office of violence prevention. These agencies create a comprehensive plan to reduce violence, often by connecting a variety of city agencies, engaging with community stakeholders, and allocating city funds to community-based violence prevention programs. Offices of violence prevention are an essential component in ensuring that community-based efforts to reduce gun violence have the resources and technical support to effectively reduce violence. States and localities should create offices of violence prevention.
- Trauma informed care: Trauma informed care recognizes and responds to the impact of trauma, emphasizing physical, psychological, and emotional safety, while promoting empowerment and healing. Trauma informed care helps individuals and communities cope with the trauma of community gun violence. Federal, state, and local policymakers should pass legislation to promote and adequately fund trauma informed practices across public agencies including in education, law enforcement, and social services.
- Supporting communities impacted by gun violence through federal grant funding:
- Victims of Crimes Act (VOCA) funding: VOCA funds are designed to compensate victims of violence and to fund organizations that provide assistance to victims. To date, these funds have been underutilized to support victims of community gun violence. VOCA funds can be used to support a wide range of vital services such as hospital-based violence intervention programs, community-based violence prevention programs, and mental health services for those exposed to trauma. States should use their federal VOCA funds to provide services and compensation specifically to victims of community gun violence. They can do this by easing eligibility requirements, providing education and technical assistance to notify individuals and organizations that qualify for VOCA funds, and providing support to apply for the funds.
- Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funding: The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance offers funding for states and localities to support a range of public safety initiatives through Project Safe Neighborhoods and the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (JAG). Both Project Safe Neighborhoods and JAG provide states and localities significant discretion on how the funding can be used, yet the majority of these funds go to police departments. States and localities should use these existing funding streams to support community-based violence intervention and prevention efforts.
- Other Federal Agencies: Other federal agencies including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Department of Education (DOE) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) should make federal funding available for programs that reduce community gun violence or that address the root causes of community gun violence.
- Reporting lost and stolen firearms: Lost and stolen reporting laws require individuals to report the loss or theft of their firearm to law enforcement, who then enter the information into an FBI firearms database. Lost and stolen reporting laws help reduce the flow of illegal firearms by identifying gun traffickers and helping to recover lost and stolen guns faster, thereby reducing interstate gun trafficking and violent crime. States should enact lost and stolen reporting laws.
- Universal background checks with licensing: Universal background checks require a background check on all firearm sales and transfers. Without universal background checks, it is far too easy for prohibited purchasers to acquire firearms. Requiring background checks on all gun sales helps to reduce firearms trafficking. Background checks should be required on every gun sale and transfer in the United States, including private and online sales. See Universal Background Checks for more information. Universal background checks are found to be most effective when administered through a firearms licensing system. Licensing laws, also called permit-to-purchase laws, require individuals to obtain a license or permit before purchasing a firearm. These laws vary from state to state, but in addition to a background check, may require an in-person application, safety training, fingerprints, and a waiting period. Research has found that these laws are effective at reducing homicides, suicides, and firearms trafficking. States should enact licensing laws and continuously monitor and evaluate these laws to ensure equitable implementation.
- Microstamping: Microstamping technology imprints microscopic identification codes on bullet cartridge casings when the weapon is fired; these codes correspond with the firearm’s serial number and enable law enforcement to match cartridges found at crime scenes directly to the gun that fired them without recovering the firearm itself. Microstamping has the power to help law enforcement solve shootings, interrupt cycles of violence, and ultimately prevent future shootings. Microstamping should be required in new semi-automatic pistols.
- Lethal means safety counseling and hospital based violence intervention programs:
- Lethal means safety counseling is an evidence-based healthcare intervention that is effective in preventing firearm injury and can be used to help prevent homicides. Lethal means safety counseling helps healthcare providers work collaboratively with at-risk patients and their families to temporarily reduce access to firearms until the elevated risk subsides. Healthcare professionals should be trained on lethal means safety counseling as an injury prevention intervention. All patients should be asked about firearm access and provided safer storage information. See Lethal Means Safety Counseling for more information.
- Gunshot victims who are admitted to hospitals should receive further support through hospital-based violence intervention programs. These evidence-based programs provide survivors of gun violence with wraparound services such as educational support, job training, and culturally responsive mental health services to interrupt retaliatory cycles of violence and reduce the potential for re-injury.
- Improve nonfatal firearm injury data: Strong data is the foundation of the public health approach. Robust and accurate nonfatal injury data is greatly needed to better understand nonfatal firearm injury and develop effective interventions for community violence. The number of hospitals included in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) database should be expanded, the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample (NEDS) data should be incorporated into the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) database to adjust the current online estimate, and a nonfatal shooting category should be added to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. See Nonfatal Firearm Injuries for more information.
- Firearm Homicide in the United States
- Funding Community-Based Violence Prevention
- The Root Causes of Gun Violence
- Female Homicide in the United States
- COVID-19 and its Impact on Communities of Color
- Police Reform, Legitimacy, and Community Violence
- June 2020 press release, Congressional action on policing reform
- June 2020 press release, CSGV responds to unrest in Minneapolis and the arrest in killing of George Floyd
- April 2020 blog in Youth Today, Communities of Color Must Be Centered in Gun Violence Prevention Movement
- November 2019 blog, Day-to-Day Gun Violence Deserves Our Attention
- September 2019 press release, A historic hearing on gun violence in our cities
- July 2019 press release, Governor Ralph Northam announces grant funding for community violence intervention programs
- December 2018 op-ed in The Hill, Five gun violence prevention priorities for the incoming Congress
- November 2017 op-ed in The Hill, The path forward for Democrats starts with gun violence prevention
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Last updated February 2021