How To Reduce Gun Violence? Talking About It Would Be a Good First Start.


              To paraphrase Cliven Bundy, let me tell you about your United States.  In your United States, we love to create and publish reports. We do reports on everything: income, employment, education, production, sickness, health – everything. We even do reports on violence, such as the report issued last week by the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ), which you can download right here.

              By the time I read through the first two or three pages of this report, I thought I was reading a report produced by another group of concerned social scientists, activists and community leaders and issued in 2017, which you can download right here.

              What’s the difference between the two reports? The latter report focuses on New York City, the former on all large cities that are struggling to deal with violence today.

              Beyond that, the two reports basically say the same thing: reduce the central role played by cops in their ‘fight’ against crime and put emphasis on social and behavioral programs led by community groups.

              How many times does the phrase ‘gun violence’ appear in the CCJ report? Exactly once. How many times does the phrase ‘gun violence’ appear in the 2017 report? Exactly once. 

              You would think from these two reports that guns and violence are two very separate things, existing independently of one another. You would also think that if an approach to violence which focuses on behavior modification and community cohesion were to be organized in a particularly violent community, that all the guns in that community would somehow just magically disappear, right?

              Several years ago, our friends at The Trace published a listing of more than 9,000 guns connected to criminal activity and picked up by the cops in various jurisdictions throughout the United States. I analyzed this data, and you can download my SSRN paper here.

              One of the more interesting discoveries I made in looking at this information was the fact that many of guns which were ultimately used in crimes had been floating around the civilian arsenal for more than thirty years. Do you own one, single consumer item that came into your possession before 1990?

              The point is that guns don’t wear out and they don’t break. So, the idea that we will reduce gun violence by somehow making the kids and adults who otherwise indulge in such behavior become less violent but meanwhile allow the guns they use to be kept around is a really stupid joke.

              Meanwhile, neither of the reports on reducing inner-city violence mentions this issue at all. In 2019, there were 19,141 homicides reported in the United States. Of that total, 75 percent, or 14,414 were committed with guns.  We have a fatal, violent crime rate that is 7 to 20 times higher than any other OECD nation-state.

              Know what would happen if those guys (and kids) who shoot other people couldn’t get their hands on guns? Our fatal violence rate would be as low or lower than most of the other advanced nation-states.

               One of the report’s authors told me that the supply of guns is a national issue that has to be handled by the ATF. That’s simply not true. If schools teach kids public health behaviors like eating healthy foods and staying away from drugs, these same kids can’t be taught about the risks of guns?

One of these days my friends who do gun research at various universities around the United States need to sit down and ask themselves what role they should be doing in the current gun debate.  Are they scholars or are they advocates? 

It seems to me they try to be both. And I’m sorry but as far as I’m concerned, advocacy has no place in the scholarly debate.  Want to advocate for an end to gun violence?  Go right ahead. Join one of the gun -control groups, send them some bucks, go to their meetings, all fine and well.

But don’t publish an ‘evidence-based’ paper that raises some issues but leaves equally-important issues out. The role of the scholar is to question current beliefs, not come up with a new paradigm which you hope everyone will believe.

A New And Exciting Response To Gun Violence.


              Right now, the city of Miami and surrounding Dade County seem to be caught in a spiral of gun violence that doesn’t want to end. Increased community meetings, increased police presence, increased seizures of crime guns – the violence goes on.

              Meanwhile, in addition to an uptick in daily gun violence, there have been two mass shootings, including a drive-by outside a location where a graduation party was taking place that left 3 dead and 5 injured, with no suspects arrested or even identified as of yet.

              What caught my eye in all of this, however, was a bill filed by State Senator Jason Pizzo, which is a unique approach to the problem, but because it was not only a new legislative perspective on gun violence but may have made a difference if it has been signed into law, the bill never got out of committee. We’re talking about the Gunshine State, ze hais?

              Senator Pizzo has refiled his bill this year (SB1310) but it will languish in some committee, but perhaps it will become a template for similar gun bills in states which aren’t so completely under the control of a wannabe Donald Trump like Ron DeSantis. The bill prohibits minors from posting pictures of guns on social media and will require parents of such kids to enroll in education classes if their child used one of their guns for the pictures that are displayed in a social media account that is “openly viewable by the public.”

              This would be an easy law to enforce because such sites – Facebook, Instagram, etc., – are not only viewable by the public but also by the police. And if the parents of juveniles don’t know that their kids are brandishing guns online, it’s something they need to learn and something they need to stop from happening again.

              The problem with enforcing strict penalties for the illegal use of a gun, which is Gun-nut Nation’s universal prescription for how to reduce the violence committed by using a gun, is that such a strategy can only be employed after the criminal event involving gun use has already occurred. The real issue, it seems to me, is how to proactively prevent gun violence before it happens before someone gets it in their head to settle an argument or respond to being dissed by pulling out a gun.

              Our friend Al Lizotte has done the fundamental research on how and when kids get interested in guns and you can download it here. When do kids who use guns for crimes first get interested in guns? In their early teens. When do they start carrying guns? In their middle teens. When does gun violence become the principal cause of homicidal and aggravated assault behavior? From ages 16 on up.

              You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that kids who move from toy guns to real guns in their early teens become the most at-risk population for committing gun violence even before they actually get their hands on a real gun. If they can use a real gun to spice up their appearances on social media, then the transition from gun interest to gun access has already occurred. And even if they only use a plastic imitation of a gun for their social media post instead of the real thing, the intent is clear.

              In 1999, that’s more than twenty years ago, the gun-homicide rate in the United States was 3.88, now it’s 4.39. The gun-assault rate in 2001 was 14.40, it was 18.82 in 2012 and then the CDC stopped trying to compute the non-fatal gun assault rate.

              Never mind the number of gun deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past twenty years. How about the number of young kids who have moved from interest to access, to criminal use of guns during those same twenty years?

              Pizzo’s bill is a good idea. I hope it gets copied in other states.

What Is An Assault Rifle?: Weisser, Michael R.: 9798728410980: Amazon.com: Books

Do More Gun Laws Equal Less Gun Violence?


The United States got into gun control big time when we passed the National Firearms Act (NFA) in 1934.  This law, still on the books, created a category of small arms that were considered too dangerous for everyday purchase or use – machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, etc. – and required people who wanted to own such guns to undergo a very lengthy and expensive background check process known today as Class III.

Kansas City             Many industrialized countries passed gun-control laws just before or after World War II, many copied our NFA with one, major exception; namely, countries like Germany, France, Italy, Austria and others put handguns on the restricted list. This is the reason we have gun violence and those countries don’t – it’s because Americans have easy access to handguns. And even though we still don’t know exactly how guns move from the legal to the illegal market and then get used in violent crime, what we do know is that, one way or another, it happens again and again where handguns are concerned.

Most states allow residents to buy a handgun following the standard, FBI-NICS background check. But some jurisdictions respond to handgun criminality by instituting a system known as permit-to-purchase (PTP.)   There are currently 9 states which, in addition to the NICS process, also do a pre-purchase background check at the state level, thus making the vetting for handgun purchases more detailed. Our friends at the Hopkins gun-research group recently published a study comparing gun-homicide rates between states with and without PTP, and it turns out that states which impose PTP on handgun purchases suffer a much lower rate of gun homicides than states which don’t require PTP.

Notwithstanding the difference in gun-violence rates between states with a PTP process as opposed to states without, how can we be sure that a change in a specific legal process and a change in a specific type of behavior governed by that legal process is based on some degree of causality rather than just coincidence between two trends?  To eliminate or at least discount other explanatory factors, the Hopkins researchers create regression models using poverty, unemployment, incarceration and other data usually associated with criminal events, as well as controlling for non-firearm homicide rates. Finally, and here is a major step forward in this type of research, the Hopkins group looked specifically at large, urban jurisdictions rather than state-level trends because most gun violence occurs within heavily-populated, urban zones.

Using what has become a standard list of characteristics associated with violence allows the Hopkins findings to be compared with other studies which utilizing similar demographic and criminal controls. But I wonder whether gun-violence researchers should perhaps widen the list of characteristics used to define these controls.  For example, in Kansas City, reported gun thefts jumped 50 percent from 2015 to 2017 – from 588 guns reported stolen to 886. During the same period, gun homicides nearly doubled as well.

How do we know that the increase in Missouri gun homicide after 2007 wasn’t more related to an increase in the availability of stolen guns than in the ability of purchasers to buy a handgun without undergoing a PTP check? We can hypothesize all we want that by removing the PTP process from private handgun sales (which is what the 2007 change in the Missouri law was all about) that more guns moved from legal to illegal hands. As a matter of fact, it probably does mean something along those lines, but unless we know the provenance of all or at least some of those stolen guns, why should we assume that a change in the PTP law is what led to an increase in homicides tied to guns?

Homicide remains the most aberrant and inexplicable form of human behavior, made even more aberrant and inexplicable with the presence of a gun. I would like to believe that we can control this behavior with some rational and practical legal strategies, but do the studies tying gun violence rates to the absence or presence of certain gun laws prove this to be true?




A Different Look At America’s ‘Exceptional’ Gun Violence.


If there is one truism about gun violence which is subscribed to by everyone who is active in the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, it’s the idea that the United States has a higher rate of fatal violence than any other advanced country because we have so many guns. The studies which confirm this notion first began to appear in the 1970’s, reappearing with regularity every few years. In addition to finding a link between fatal gun violence and the size of the civilian arsenal, a more recent study suggests the same link also exists between mass shootings and the number of guns in civilian hands, although the author of this study has made no attempt to give us even the slightest hint about the data he used to develop this idea.

gun violence everytown             If the defining characteristics of intentional gun injuries was similar to what we find in other injuries from commonly-owned consumer products (ex., automobiles, bikes) I would have no issue with this approach to understanding injuries caused by guns. But it’s not. Gun injuries are unique among all product injuries tracked by the CDC because in every other category, the person who commits the injurious behavior and the person who gets injured are one and the same. As for gun violence, and violent behavior in general, other than suicide, the injured party and the party who commits the injury are two different people, so we need to understand the behavior of both.

Additionally, gun violence is skewed in terms of where it happens and who is involved.  Of the 3,100 counties in the United States, more than half are not the locations for any gun homicides at all. And less than 2% of all U.S. counties are the locations for more than half of all fatal gun injuries each year.  Furthermore, within these high-risk counties, most of the perpetrators and victims of intentional gun violence are men between the ages of 16 and 34, a majority of whom happen to be from non-white racial groups.

Now let me make one thing very clear.  I am not trying in any way, shape or form to assign certain behavioral characteristics to any particular racial or ethnic group. Nor do I ever make judgements about the relative cultural values of one population group versus another. My approach to understanding gun violence is very simple, namely, the data either explains something or it does not. And the strategies that we adopt for reducing gun violence can either be justified by a rigorous analysis of the data or they can’t. In that regard, I am afraid that the way we analyze data on fatal gun violence, particularly when we use the data for cross-national comparisons, simply doesn’t work.

I have just posted a very detailed paper examining how we define and use data for cross-national comparisons about fatal gun violence that raises substantive questions about whether the accepted narrative about the exceptional rate of American gun violence leads us towards more effective GVP strategies or not.  The paper is available on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) and can be downloaded here.  You can also send me comments about the paper to which I will quickly respond.  This is the second paper I have posted and I am pleased to join more than 370,000 scholars worldwide who use SSRN to share research with other scholars in their field. Without such intellectual cross-fertilization, our body of knowledge would expand at a much slower pace.

Regardless of how we feel about guns, everyone has a vested interest in feeling secure and safe. And it doesn’t matter whether risks to our safety are felt more in one area or among one population group as opposed to another, either we share a commitment to the commonweal or we don’t. My only hope is that part of this commitment will rest on validated data culled from serious research.



How Does U.S. Gun Violence Compare To Other Nation-States?


If there is one argument about gun violence which has taken on a life of its own within the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement, it’s the idea that the U.S. has a much higher level of lethal violence because we have so many more guns. The most recent research in this respect was published several years ago by two eminent GVP scholars who compared the rate of intentional mortality injuries in the U.S. to the same injury category in 23 other ‘wealthy’ nations and found the U.S. rate to be much higher than anywhere else.

gun violence everytown             Here is their basic finding: “U.S. homicide rates were 7 times higher than in other high-income countries, driven by a gun homicide rate that was 25.2 times higher.” Wow.

It’s always tricky to make cross-national comparisons when it comes to gun violence because often the data required to develop and study a problem just isn’t there. Or if it is there, sometimes the researcher won’t let anyone have access to the information, so it’s as if the numbers don’t exist even if they do.  A case in point is a celebrated article by Adam Lankford, who claims to have done a cross-national comparison of 171 countries and determined that the U.S. rate of mass gun violence is much higher than anywhere else because Americans own so many guns.  But nowhere in his paper or downloadable from the journal in which it appeared can we even view the figures which he allegedly used.

The good news about the study which compared mortality in the U.S. to other high-income countries, however, is that all the data either accompanies the article itself or is referenced to other published works (Small Arms Survey, World Bank, et. al.) Which brings me to a much more concerning problem with this research, namely, the decision to base murder rates on overall population totals, which could distort the whole issue of violence caused by guns.

In fact, there are two issues which need to be addressed if we are going to make a valid comparison between the United States versus everywhere else. First, the fact that a country’s civilian population owns a lot of guns doesn’t really explain any causal connection to gun violence unless we know what kinds of guns are actually owned. Of the 24 ‘wealthy’ countries whose violence rates were compared, the United States is the only country that grants its residents more or less free access to handguns, which happen to account for at least 80% or more of all intentional gun deaths. In terms of understanding relative gun risk, counting Grandpa’s rusted old shotgun sitting in the basement doesn’t explain anything at all.

The more important issue, however, is whether we should be comparing gun-violence rates from an epidemiological perspective (i.e., creating an injury rate on overall population, the way we create a rate to understand the risk of an infectious disease.)  By using overall population counts to compute gun violence rates, we are assuming that a gun injury is just like any medical event which causes an injury, but it’s not. Intentional gun injuries can only occur if someone makes a series of conscious, calculated decisions to get their hands on a gun, load a gun, carry a gun, and use the gun in an improper or illegal way.  There is no other medical event of any kind, even other intentional, physical injuries, that require so much forethought and work.

Know what happens when we compare gun violence rates between wealthy countries using the number of civilian-owned guns found in each nation-state? The U.S. rate is no longer 7.5 times higher than any other country; in fact it is right smack in the middle of the average rate for all 24 ‘wealthy’ states.

It would be folly to argue that we don’t have a serious and protracted problem with gun violence. Of course, we do. But when we compare gun violence on the basis of ownership rates, we discover that the U.S. may not be such a violent place.


Want To Understand Gun Violence? It’s The Details That Count.


Every day our friends at the Gun Violence Archive (GVA) put up the list of people who were killed or injured by guns the day before, something they have been doing since 2014. Their data comes from more than 2,500 open sources, and while it’s not a complete listing of everyone whose life ends because they got hit with a bullet, their efforts give us a remarkable opportunity to understand when, how, where and why shootings take place.

GVA              Mark Bryant and his merry band have come in for their lumps from both camps in the gun debate, gun-control scholars seemingly never satisfied unless every bit of data can be linked to a legitimate, government source; Gun-nut Nation trolls refusing to accept the idea that there’s something called gun violence at all. But the GVA gives us details of each incident, read enough of them and you begin to realize that analyzing gun violence just by using numbers obscures as much as it explains.

Let’s take every gun killing listed in GVA for March 25. There were 18 separate incidents in 10 different states resulting in 22 deaths.  In other words, more than one out of 5 fatal shootings resulted in more than one death. What does this mean? Neither the FBI nor the CDC, the two agencies which gather data on gun violence, publish the actual number of fatal shooting events; they just give us an overall body count, which is not the same thing.

March 25th was a Monday. Are 22 fatal gun shootings what normally occur on the first ‘business’ day of the week?  Again, we have no idea because the studies that look at day-to-day variations in gun killings tend to be localized within a particular city or particular state. Another problem from a quantitative perspective is that the GVA can’t rely on open sources to generate any kind of comprehensive data on gun suicides. If that were the case, generally speaking, a day which registered 22 gun homicides would count only 40 gun suicides, when the actual number is 55 or more. with guns. But one incident described by GVA did stand out in this respect. A man in Harris County, TX caused an accident by driving the wrong way down a one-way street. He came out of his car, observed the incident (nobody was badly hurt) and then went back to his car and shot himself dead. We always think of suicide as a planned, isolated event. Really?

Another interesting bit of information which came out of the listing was that five of the 22 casualties were women, which happens to be roughly twice the usual proportion of female gun homicide victims to victims overall. Two of the women were shot inside their homes alongside a male victim; another woman was pregnant, she survived but the unborn baby did not, another woman sitting in the car was also gunned down.

Finally, two of the shootings took place in situations where liquor was involved, a strip club and a bar. Maybe the shooters were under the influence, maybe not. Alcohol is certainly an extenuating factor in all kinds of violence; that 10% of the March 25 shootings were in or near places serving booze shouldn’t surprise.

I saw the first photographic show mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in 1958 or 1959.  It featured the photos of Arthur Zellig, aka Weegee, whose pictures of New York homicides were graphic enough to be considered works of art. Taking a Weegee-like approach to gun homicide brings us face-to-face with a type of behavior that no amount of data can necessarily explain. Americans commit more than 2 million serious acts of personal violence each year, so how come only 75,000 are committed with guns? It’s not like the other 1,925,000 people who really try to hurt someone else can’t get their hands on a gun.

Everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should read some of the descriptions of the shooting events listed in the GVA.  It’s a sobering exercise, to say the least, but I guarantee that after you finish, you’ll never think the same way about gun violence again.

Do We Suffer From Gun Violence Or From Violence Itself?


If there is one argument which has carried gun violence prevention (GVP) efforts forward over the last twenty years, it is the idea that the USA is not necessarily more violent than other advanced countries, but that our violence results in a much higher mortality rate because of our access to guns.  The connection between guns and mortality rates was first noticed by Frank Zimring back in the 1970’s, it was validated by our friend David Hemenway in 2004, findings which Hemenway updated in an extensive article published last year.



David Hemenway

Updating the data, Hemenway and the co-author Erin Grinshteyn concluded that, “Violent death is a serious problem in the United States.” Why? Because of our “enormous firearm problem compared with other high-income countries, with higher rates of homicide and firearm-related suicide.” And these conclusions continue to find their way into the literature, the public-policy strategies and the fundraising campaigns of every GVP organizations, all of whom shape their messaging based on gun-violence research by scholars in public health.

There’s only one little problem, however, and the problem arises from something known as the ‘substitution effect.’ What this means in plain English is that comparing outcomes from different types of violent behavior forces us to assume that if the way in which the violence was committed was the same, the outcomes would be similar as well.  For example, the latest research on guns and suicide states that access to guns increases the suicide rate. Therefore, if 1 out of 10 people who used guns to commit suicides had chosen instead to end their lives by cutting themselves or taking pills, there would have been 1,900 less suicide deaths. But what if suicidal individuals chose hanging or asphyxiation (where successful suicides run above 60%) instead of slashing themselves or swallowing medicines, the latter behaviors being much more a symptom of distress than a determined suicide attempt? Since we cannot answer such a question with any degree of certainty, how can we figure out the real effect on suicide rates if there were no access to guns? In fact, the number of non-firearm suicides in both gun-rich and gun-poor states is exactly the same.

The issue of substituting gun violence for overall violence becomes even more problematic when we consider homicides with or without the use of guns.  Grinshteyn and Hemenway find that the US gun-homicide rate is 3.6 compared to Germany, Hungary and Spain at 0.1, Australia, Austria, France and Netherlands at 0.2 (comparing to the lowest nation-states in the OECD.) But the disparity between the United States and these other countries for non-gun homicides is substantial as well.  The United States rate is 1.7, the average for the former group of OECD countries being 0.8, for the latter being 0.6.  In other words, even without using guns, Americans tend to murder each other at a rate which is two to three times higher than what occurs throughout the OECD.

Would the murder differential between the United States and other Western countries disappear if Americans couldn’t get their hands on guns? To the contrary, the differential would probably be greater precisely because of the ‘substitution effect;’ namely, Americans who tried killing other Americans would find a way to accomplish this act without using guns.

I am not trying to ignore the degree to which open access to guns, particularly handguns, creates issues of public safety and public health in the United States which do not exist in any other country within the OECD. Nor am I trying to dismiss or denigrate the efforts of the GVP community to focus public attention and promote sound public policies that would reduce every category of gun injuries, fatal or not. What concerns me are scholarly attempts to understand our elevated rates of gun violence while ignoring our elevated rate of violence with or without the use of guns. To end on a rather hackneyed note: are gun-violence researchers looking at the forest or the trees?

Do Strategies For Reducing Gun Violence Really Work?

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One of the enduring myths in the gun world is the idea that injuries occur when guns are used either by people whose behavior indicates they shouldn’t have access to guns or by people who use guns in unsafe ways. And what these two myths have spawned over the last twenty years is an approach to reducing gun violence which I don’t believe really works.  These two gun violence prevention (GVP) strategies, which have been supported by the work of public health research, can be summarized as the ‘wrong hands’ strategy for intentional gun injuries and the ‘safe guns’ strategy for accidents caused by guns.

gun control             More than 100,000 fatal and non-fatal intentional injuries each year are caused, so it is said, by guns falling into the ‘wrong hands.’ This is certainly true for 20,000+ gun suicides, which in this case the wrong hands belong to people who are under mental stress. It is also claimed to be true for people who commit 11,000+ gun homicides, because their legal/personal/family histories contain red flags for violent behavior so they shouldn’t be able to get their hands on guns. And as for the guys who commit 65,000+ aggravated gun assaults each year, they are no different from the gun murderers, except they didn’t shoot straight. What’s the best way to keep guns out of the ‘wrong hands?’ Make it more difficult for such folks to get access to guns through more background checks and better monitoring by mental health.

When it comes to 15,000+ fatal and non-fatal unintentional injuries, the problem here is not caused by ‘wrong hands,’ but by ‘right hands’ who don’t know how to safely use their guns. So what we need to do here is teach these right-handed people how to use guns in safe ways, remind them to always lock up their guns and maybe at some time in the distant future (don’t hold your collective breaths) we will have guns which won’t be able to be used at all until the rightful owner puts on some kind of bracelet which sends a radio signal to the gun and you can fill in the rest of this dream.

I’m going to say something which I hope won’t be taken the wrong way, because when it comes to reducing violence, the fact that a particular strategy or program hasn’t worked as well as we would like it to work doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be followed at all. I’m not here to advocate throwing out the baby with the bath water; I just think that GVP needs to be more realistic as we move ahead.

The reason the ‘wrong hands’ and ‘safe gun’ strategies haven’t yet gotten us where we want to go is because they are built on assumptions and experiences involving safety measures for other consumer products which in the case of guns simply do not ring true. Want to reduce injuries from car accidents? Design a safer car, mandate seat belts, get tough on DUI, we all know the drill. Want to prevent people from cracking their heads open when they fall off a bike? Require helmets, that’s all you need to do.

Those public health success stories are all fine and well but they shouldn’t serve as templates for reducing gun violence for the simple reason that autos and bicycles were designed for the purpose of moving us from here to there. On the other hand, guns are designed to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to cause an injury when someone points a gun at themselves or someone else and the gun goes – bam!

Until and unless we figure out how to make it more difficult for anyone to pick up something as lethal as a gun, to quote the great writer Walter Mosley, ‘walk around with a gun and it will go off, sooner or later.’ And when the gun goes off, no amount of research on the causes of gun violence will keep someone from getting hurt.

Despite What Some People Believe, We Need More Gun Buybacks, Not Less.


Last week my eye caught an interesting gun article in The New York Times, and it’s not like I often read articles in the NYT that are interesting (or correct, for that matter.) But this was an article about two young men who put together a very successful gun buyback in Los Angeles that collected more than 770 weapons in a one-day program last May, and have taken more than 1,100 guns out of circulation since 2013.

confiscated             The two guys behind this initiative have put together an organization, Gun By Gun, which has been operating on the West Coast but with proper care and feeding could obviously become a national thing. The whole deal is funded through crowd-sourced donations which, according to the NYT article, have collected more than $100,000. But what I really found interesting about this effort was not the amount of money donated or the number of guns taken off the streets, but rather the fact that folks who give in their guns get a Target gift card as their reward.  I’ll come back to the significance of that fact in a bit.

But meanwhile I first have to spend a bit of time discussing the manner in which our dear public health friends have viewed the question of gun buybacks, because the truth is that the narrative they have developed about buybacks misses the basic point of such programs, which means that public health gun violence researchers simply get it wrong.

Over the years there have been a number of gun buyback programs whose results have been analyzed by some of our leading public health gun researchers, including Frederick Rivara and Garen Wintemute, along with a summary published by the National Academies in 2004. These articles basically say the same thing, namely, that gun buybacks are ineffective because people turn in old or broken guns whereas the guns which are used in felonies remain in the street. And of course it’s impossible to prove any direct connection between the number of guns which are turned in and whether or not this has any effect on crime, and if you can’t make some kind of connection or what public health loves to call ‘association’ between two sets of facts, then you can’t assume that anything has happened at all.

I would never challenge my friends in the public health community when it comes to understanding or using data about guns or gun violence and I would certainly never even hint at the idea that public health research on gun violence shouldn’t be continued and, if anything, increased in scope and size. But by casting the academic discussion about the value of gun buyback programs in terms of being able to measure results, and public health researchers simply can’t detach themselves from their never-ending commitment to measuring whatever they look at, the discussion about the importance and value of buybacks is pushed in the wrong direction and is simply never discussed or understood.

The real value of gun buybacks, the reason that such programs need to be expanded into every community which suffers from any degree of gun violence, is that when a buyback program occurs, it gets everyone in the community thinking about guns. And the thoughts have nothing to do with whether guns are a good thing to have around, the thoughts are about the importance and necessity of getting rid of guns.

Gun-nut Nation has done a very effective job of convincing lots of Americans that they would be safer if their home contained a gun. They have done such a good job that they are maybe less than 2 Senate votes away from a new law that would allow everyone to wander throughout the entire United States carrying a gun.

A buyback program is the most effective way of telling a community that guns won’t make them safer and that guns should be turned in. If my friends in the public health community have come up with a better messaging about gun violence, please share it with me.


Thank you Margaret Ayres.

Want To Reduce Gun Violence? Try The New Haven Approach.


When we think of gun violence, we usually think about big, urban centers like Chicago, Baltimore or St. Louis which have large, inner-city neighborhoods and, unfortunately, lots of violent crime. But it often turns out that gun violence is all too common in smaller cities, for example last week five people were gunned down in Chester, PA, a little burb of Phillly with a population of 34,000, the town leading the United States with an average of 53 gun homicides per 100,000 every year for the last fifteen years.

NNSC             Even though it’s the location of Yale University, the city of New Haven used to be right up there with places like Chester when it comes to residents getting shot.  In 2011 there were 34 homicides, which gave the city a per-100K homicide rate of 27.2, while the statewide rate that same year was 4.06.  In fact, in 2011, with three percent of the state’s total population, New Haven accounted for 25% of the people who were feloniously killed in that one year. That’s serious sh*t.

Know what the New Haven numbers looked like in 2016?  Homicides were down to 13, non-fatal shooting victims dropped from 133 to 67, and the number of gunshots that were picked up by the city’s ShotSpotter system went from 426 to 160.  To quote Mayor Toni Harp, New Haven has become a “healthier, safer city.”  That’s for sure.

If a city like New Haven, with a family media income that is 30% below the national average and with one-quarter of the residents living below the poverty line, can get it together and reduce gun violence to such a remarkable degree, we need to figure out what they are doing because it might serve as a template for other communities who would like to healthy and safe because gun violence goes away.

New Haven’s effort is based on a state initiative called Project Longevity, which brings together all the major institutional and community stakeholders to confront the perpetrators of gun violence through a combination of social service outreach, law enforcement attention and the application of both positive and negative incentives to the at-risk population on an ongoing basis.  Those individuals in the neighborhood who otherwise might commit gun violence but ask for assistance are given job, housing and education assistance; those who spurn such help and continue to commit violence are identified by the police and taken off the streets.

The New Haven project is the brainchild of David Kennedy, who ran his first police-community anti-violence program in Boston in the 1990’s and has taken this approach to cities in 31 states under the aegis of the National Network for Safe Communities (NNSC,) which operates out of John Jay College of The City University of New York. The Network’s informational guide should be required reading for everyone in the GVP community, and you can download it here. 

What runs through NNSC philosophy and practice is the idea that law enforcement is not just a tool for maintaining law and order by arresting and locking up the bad guys, it’s also a community-service organization where the cops spend as much or more time assisting and positively interacting with community residents as they spend chasing criminals. As the attitude of fear and suspicion between cops and community is replaced by an attitude of respect and trust on both sides, keeping the neighborhood safe becomes an effective basis for building a viable police-civilian partnership which drives down all crime.

Our friend Frank Zimring talks about the degree to which police shootings in the inner-city contribute to a general sense of violence that makes the presence and use of guns part and parcel of ghetto life. After all, if the cops can shoot willy-nilly at everyone, why can’t civilians do the same? But the decision by New Haven police to only use lethal force in the most extreme circumstances seems to have resulted in the decline of gun violence within the city as a whole. Could this be a template for reducing gun violence nationwide?


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