Webinar review: Exploring effective strategies for reducing and preventing gun violence

The Hauser Policy Impact Fund recently held the second webinar of a two-part series on Building Safer CommunitiesThis webinar concentrated on exploring effective strategies for reducing and preventing gun violence in the United States, and it built on previous work from CLAJ, including the past reports: Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review and Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-related Violence

The presenters explored strategies to mitigate gun violence, specifically, the roles of communities, governments, public health officials, researchers and law enforcement. Each of the participants gave a presentation of their own work, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The panel of speakers included:

  • Robert D. Crutchfield, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington
  • Anthony Braga, Professor of Criminology & Director of the Crime and Justice Policy Lab, University of Pennsylvania
  • Andrew V. Papachristos, Faculty Director, The Center for Neighborhood Engaged Research & Science (CORNERS) & Professor, Department of Sociology, Northwestern University; Faculty Fellow, The Institute for Policy Research
  • Daniel Webster, Bloomberg Professor of American Health in Violence Prevention, Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions
  • The late Linda Harllee Harper, Former Director, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, Washington, DC

What the numbers show

Dr. Crutchfield noted that crime rates are up nationwide, with 71 mass shootings to date in 2023 and 647 in 2022. Mass shootings are defined as four or more people shot not including the shooter. He also pointed out that there were 48,000 people who died of gun violence in the past year, with greater than 25,000 deaths due to suicide.  He emphasized that we must not lose sight of suicide deaths when discussing policy. Crimes prevented by armed citizens were discussed, but Dr. Crutchfield was uncertain how many were prevented in that particular scenario.

Focus on gun violence hotspots

Dr. Braga discussed how 5% of street blocks can generate up to 75% of the shootings that occurred in highly concentrated areas. He also noted that the 1% of people who are gang members generate 60% of the homicides.

He mentioned that police should be trying to control identifiable risks and that communities need to “double down” with hotspot policing and community problem-solving to improve the physical environment which can make places more violent. He recommended focusing on offenders and hotspots and developing intelligence which can be useful in breaking cycles of crime.

The importance of police “acting lawfully,” being “procedurally just” and exercising “focused deterrence” was discussed as being key to improving the credibility of law enforcement in the eyes of the citizens, and Dr Braga expounds on this in his book “Policing Gun Violence.” 

Community, social service and criminal justice agencies need to work in concert to change violent behaviors by using incentives and disincentives. The mantra “swiftness and certainty over severity” was used, with recommendations to get offenders on a better life trajectory. This type of work in Baltimore’s western districts has caused shootings to decrease by 35% by using focused deterrence and a portfolio approach to improve investigations, which in some areas only had 5% clearance rates.

Reach the highest-risk individuals

Dr. Webster stressed the importance of reaching the highest-risk individuals, building trust and mobilizing communities around non-violence. The three key components he identified were:

  1. “Detect and interrupt” violent conflicts and retaliations
  2. “Identify and treat” people most at risk of violence
  3. “Mobilize” the community to shift social norms to non-violence.

He discussed augmented synthetic control and trying to predict which interventions may prevent homicides. This resulted in a return of $7-$19 for every dollar spent on “Safe Streets Baltimore,” with sound investments in health, equity and social justice. Homicides decreased 28% after a Connecticut handgun purchaser licensing law went into effect, which mandated fingerprints and a detailed background check. Other studies looking at similar laws showed lower rates of firearm homicides in large cities, suburban counties, and rural counties; a 54% lower rate of fatal mass shootings; fewer police shot in the line of duty with handguns; a 38% lower rate of shootings by police and a reduction in arrests for weapons violations.

Community violence prevention partners

Dr. Papachristos discussed community violence prevention partners and the concept of community violence intervention (CVI) workers.

One of these programs, “Chicago CRED,” focuses on people who are most likely to be shooters or victims, as well as the places where violence is an everyday occurrence. Street outreach and job opportunity programs, including “Communities Partnering 4 Peace” were mentioned, as well as companies providing standardized opportunities for sharing information about pay and job availability.

He discussed how 4,300 people at the highest levels of victimization were engaged without using the criminal justice system, and their risk was 400% greater than the average resident. If you find the right people, violence prevention programs can mentor and give life coaching and expand further to provide food, Wi-Fi access, educational opportunities and job training. This was all being done with 200 workers – a relatively small number, considering there are greater than 900 crews and gangs in Chicago. A follow-up study found a 7-18% decrease in violent arrests at the neighborhood level and an estimated 383 homicides were prevented.

Dr. Papachristos emphasized the importance of monitoring the physical and mental health of the CVI workers, as 60% of them have seen a shooting, and 2% have been shot themselves. Programs looking at the well-being of these workers are vitally important if we expect them to continue in their jobs.

Person-centered relationships

Linda Harllee Harper had a small full-time staff in Washington, DC. She worked with a Metropolitan Police Department law-enforcement officer liaison and trained civilian “violence interrupters.” They had programs for both victims and perpetrators that build relationships with families that are person-centered. She discussed the importance of the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, and the development of “People of Promise,” “an interagency strategy designed to disrupt cycles of violence, poverty and incarceration by relentlessly outreaching to individuals at imminent risk of victimization or involvement in violent crime and connecting them to support and services.” Their family survivor support program worked to ensure safety and meet other needs to prevent them from becoming victims again.


The second half of the program was dedicated to Q&A, and one of the first was about how criminals are getting their guns. The discussion centered around straw purchases, theft, corrupt federal firearms licensees, ghost guns and the “Iron Pipeline” in the northeast. Also mentioned was the patchwork of gun laws in different states and municipalities and the need for more uniform federal laws.

The “Crime Gun Intelligence Center Initiative” was discussed which “encourages local jurisdictions to work with their local ATF crime gun intelligence centers to collectively leverage their intelligence, technology, and community engagement. This initiative provides funding to swiftly identify unlawfully used firearms and their sources, and effectively prosecute perpetrators engaged in violent crime.”

Mandatory minimum sentencing for gun crimes was mentioned, but a panelist stated that there was no evidence that they decreased homicide rates.

“Red Flag” laws were discussed, but there is not a lot of research yet to show how effective they are. There is a suggestion that they may reduce the suicide rate by getting the guns out of the hands of those who are at risk, and they may interrupt plans for mass shootings.

There was a question about communities where young men feel they need to carry weapons to protect themselves, so how do we get out of this cycle? It’s a question of individual versus community safety, and in Washington, DC, they are considering passing out gun locks to stem the tide of accidental shootings and suicides in young people.

Lastly, a question was asked about therapeutic trauma treatments for CVI workers, emergency room staff and first responders, but this is an area where not much is known. Violence intervention workers in the Washington DC area need health insurance, benefits and access to safe housing and support groups, for them to continue to do their jobs. We need more social scientists to do data collection to improve the quality of this work, especially a more diverse group of workers in this field.

Overall, the presentation was informative and discussed some important initiatives that could be deployed in other large metro areas in the US. Most of the panelists were university professors with a lack of “street cred,” except for Dr. Crutchfield, a former probation/parole officer and Ms. Harper, who spends considerable time directly interacting with her community on the streets of Washington, DC. Expanding the panel to a more diverse group, including law enforcement professionals, CVI workers and first responders would have been helpful – hopefully we could hear them speak as well in future presentations like this.

Hauser Policy Impact Fund Webinar – Webinar 2: Exploring Effective Strategies for Reducing and Preventing Gun Violence from The National Academies on Vimeo.


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