clear Introduction

Gun violence represents a major threat to the health and safety of all Americans. Every day in the United States, 93 people die from gunshot wounds,1 and an additional 240 sustain gunshot injuries.2 The fatality rate is roughly equivalent to that associated with HIV infection -- a disease that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized as an epidemic. In addition to the human suffering caused by these injuries and fatalities, gunshot wounds account for approximately $40 billion in medical, public service, and work-loss costs each year.3 In short, gun violence is a significant criminal justice problem and a public health problem.

In recent years, communities across the country have struggled to develop effective solutions to the problem of gun violence. Many have approached the U.S. Department of Justice for help in identifying such solutions. The Department has developed this publication, Promising Strategies To Reduce Gun Violence, in response to those requests.

As its name suggests, Promising Strategies To Reduce Gun Violence is designed to provide law enforcement, State and local elected officials, prosecutors, judges, school administrators, community organizations, and other local stakeholders with the tools for fighting firearm violence in their communities. It includes a blueprint for communities to develop their own comprehensive, strategic violence reduction plan and a wealth of practical information on demonstrated and promising gun violence reduction strategies and programs.

This "toolbox" approach is intended to provide inspiration and guidance as communities take action against violent crime and, in particular, gun violence. It also is intended to help communities learn from each other's successes. To promote and facilitate this exchange of ideas, contact information is provided for each of the programs profiled.

Development of This Report

To develop this Report, the U.S. Department of Justice first identified more than 400 gun violence programs from around the country (see appendix D) by soliciting input from a wide variety of sources (see appendix E).

Having cast a wide net to identify candidate programs, the Department then conducted a two-phase telephone survey. The preliminary survey (see appendix F) allowed the Department to classify each candidate program according to its level of development and to select 89 programs for further study.

These 89 programs were the topic of a July 1998 focus group on gun violence reduction strategies, attended by more than 40 national experts representing a range of disciplines from criminology to public health. These programs were then subjected to further study in the form of a followup telephone screening and document review. This second-phase review yielded the 60 individual programs and comprehensive strategies included in this Report, each of which was designated as "promising" or "demonstrated"; the 10 most promising programs and strategies were also identified (see appendix F). Finally, site visits were made to eight communities that have implemented comprehensive plans to reduce gun violence.

Each of the gun violence reduction strategies (profiles) presented in this Report is designated as either "demonstrated" or "promising" as follows:

  • Demonstrated. Identifies those strategies that have been formally evaluated using either internal resources or external evaluators. These evaluations have shown positive impacts on one or more aspects of gun violence: reducing the sources of illegal guns, reducing the possession and carrying of illegal guns, and reducing the illegal use of guns. Demonstrated also designates those strategies where, although a final evaluation report has not been published, preliminary results have shown positive impacts on gun violence outcomes.

  • Promising. Identifies those strategies that have not been evaluated formally, but where outcomes are being captured as part of effective program management. Promising also includes those strategies employing innovative gun violence reduction models based on prior research findings, and where problem-solving technologies were employed to design the strategy. Promising strategies require further testing with stronger evaluation designs before they can demonstrate their effectiveness.

Notwithstanding the Department's best efforts to conduct a comprehensive and thorough inventory of gun violence reduction programs, it is possible that some programs that would have met the criteria for designation as "promising" or "demonstrated" have been inadvertently overlooked.

Organization of This Report

Gun violence can be considered as a three-phase continuum comprising (1) the illegal acquisition of firearms, (2) the illegal possession and carrying of firearms, and (3) the illegal, improper, or careless use of firearms. This continuum is illustrated in figure 1. To be effective, any strategy to reduce gun violence must focus on one or more of these three points of intervention; however, a comprehensive plan will incorporate strategies and programs that focus on each of the three points of intervention.

Figure 1. The Chain of Causation for Gun Violence

Figure 1. The Chain of Causation for Gun Violence

Sections I and II provide current data on the nature of gun violence and a blueprint for addressing the problem at the community level. Section III profiles several successful examples of comprehensive gun violence reduction plans. Sections IV through VII describe programs that are grouped according to the point of intervention along the three-phase continuum that each seeks to address. Section VIII provides a range of program resources and contacts for communities seeking to reduce gun violence. Sections IX and X consist of references and appendixes. Summaries of the contents of sections I through VIII follow.

I. Gun Violence in the United States

To provide the critical context for thinking about solutions to this problem, section I presents key data on the nature of gun violence from a national perspective, together with current trends. This section examines the problem of gun violence as an element of violence more broadly defined: Gun ownership, possession, and carrying; gun violence in schools; guns and drugs; and guns and gangs.

II. Solving the Problem of Gun Violence

Section II describes a blueprint for communities to develop a comprehensive solution to gun violence. A meaningful response to gun violence requires a strategy that takes into account the specific elements of the problem as experienced by an individual community and then identifies an appropriate solution. This problem-solving approach is most effective if the various stakeholders in a community collaborate to develop and implement a comprehensive violence reduction plan. Such a plan reflects the needs and resources of the community and employs the best programs and strategies to meet those needs.

III. Comprehensive Gun Violence Reduction Strategies

Section III profiles the comprehensive gun violence reduction plans that have been successfully implemented in eight different communities. To develop their comprehensive plans, these communities employed variations of the problem-solving process described in section II, including a process of forming partnerships, measuring problems, setting goals, evaluating strategies, and implementing, evaluating, and revising the plan. Their comprehensive plans address each of the three phases in the continuum of gun violence -- access to, possession of, and use of firearms -- and draw on many of the programs presented in sections IV through VII.

IV. Strategies To Interrupt Sources of Illegal Guns

The first phase of the gun violence continuum -- the illegal acquisition of firearms -- is addressed in section IV, which describes programs that seek to limit access to sources of illegal guns and thereby to reduce the number of illegally acquired guns in communities. These programs include law enforcement initiatives that disrupt the illegal flow of firearms by using intelligence gathered through crime gun tracing and regulatory inspections or undercover operations involving suspected illegal gun dealers. Comprehensive crime gun tracing facilitates both the reconstruction of the sales history of firearms associated with crime and the identification of patterns of illegal gun trafficking. Similarly, focusing criminal and regulatory enforcement on suspect dealers allows law enforcement to efficiently focus limited resources. Suspect dealers include, for example, those at the highest risk of selling firearms to "straw purchasers"purchasers fronting for people linked to illegal gun trafficking and firearm violence.

Each institution in a community brings a unique perspective, expertise, and sphere of influence to a crime prevention partnership. Partners may include the U.S. Attorney, chief of police, sheriff, Federal law enforcement agencies (FBI, ATF, DEA, and others as applicable), district attorney, State attorney general, mayor/city manager, probation and parole officers, juvenile corrections officials, judges, public defenders, school superintendents, social services officials, leaders in the faith community, and business leaders.

V. Strategies To Deter Illegal Gun Possession and Carrying

The illegal possession and carrying of firearms -- the second phase in the continuum -- is the unifying theme for section V. This section describes a range of innovative approaches to deter illegal gun possession and carrying, such as municipal gun ordinances, weapons hotlines, directed police patrols, and the specific deterrence approach known as "pulling levers." It also describes programs that focus on individuals who are most likely to possess and carry firearms illegally, including gang members and probationers. School-based enforcement programs also are highlighted in section V.

VI. Strategies To Respond To Illegal Gun Use

The programs profiled in section VI target illegal gun use -- the third phase in the continuum -- through identification, prosecution, and aggressive punishment of people who have committed multiple violent crimes, are armed drug traffickers, or have used a firearm in a crime (or possessed an illegally acquired gun); intensive education; and strict monitoring of offenders. For example, U.S. Attorneys in several States have used focused prosecution and enhanced Federal sanctions in cases against certain gun offenders. Among the court-based programs included in this section are "fast-tracking" (forwarding all gun cases to a single docket and disposing of them in a limited timeframe) and juvenile diversion programs.

VII. Education Initiatives and Alternative Prevention Strategies

Section VII profiles programs that cut across the three phases of gun violence. In recent years, many communities have recognized that gun violence is a public health and criminal justice problem. Accordingly, these communities have developed education programs that address the underlying reasons that individuals carry and use guns. These programs promote gun safety, inform youth and adults about the dangers of gun use, and seek to reduce gang membership (because gang members are so much more likely than nonmembers to carry guns). These programs also seek to prevent at-risk youth from becoming involved in criminal activity by providing them with specialized education, training, and alternative prevention programs.

VIII. Research, Technical Assistance, and Education Programs

Section VIII presents programs that provide research, technical assistance, and educational resources to communities that are seeking to address gun violence. These resources include Federal, university, and private programs that support the development and implementation of effective firearm violence reduction strategies. The programs include law enforcement strategies to reduce the sources of illegal guns and intervention strategies to prevent the possession, carrying, and use of illegal firearms.

For ease of reference, the programs profiled in sections III through VII are indexed geographically (appendix A), alphabetically (appendix B), and according to key collaborating agencies (appendix C).


1. Office of Analysis, Epidemiology, and Health, Firearm Deaths and Death Rates by Intent, United States, 1996, Washington, DC: National Center for Health Statistics, Office of Analysis, Epidemiology, and Health, 1996.

2. J.K. Annest, J.A. Mercy, D.R. Gibson, and G.W. Ryan, "National estimates of nonfatal firearm-related injuries: Beyond the tip of the iceberg," Journal of the American Medical Association 273:1749­1754, 1995.

3. T.R. Miller and M.A. Cohen, "Costs of gunshot and cut/stab wounds in the United States, with some Canadian comparisons," Accident Analysis and Prevention 29(3):329­341, 1997.

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