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Pastor Tracey Lee sits at her desk doing research.

Gun violence is frequently portrayed as an intractable fact of life in American cities, sensationalized in headlines that impugn the Black and Brown communities in which it is too often concentrated. It’s presented as a moral failing of those involved, instead of what it is: a collective failure to invest in underserved communities of color and their public safety. 

By understanding some of the leading contributors to city gun violence, its prevalence, and the community-driven interventions that can reduce it, lives can be saved and communities can be made safer. 

A pillar of these approaches is violence interruption, a public health approach to gun violence that believes if mediators can “interrupt” a heated confrontation from escalating into a shooting, they can block the “transmission” of violence within communities—prevent one shooting, and you can break the cascade of retaliatory shootings that often follow. 

Below are some commonly-cited contributors to gun violence, resources to help you understand its prevalence in our society today, as well as information about community-led interventions, including violence interruption, that can save lives today.

Leading Contributors

Learn About the Factors That Give Rise to Gun Violence

Like any complex social problem, numerous theories seek to explain why gun violence persists in our communities. Below are some of the best-studied contributors which can impact rates of gun violence.

Studies show that communities experiencing poverty and social isolation are associated with higher rates of gun violence, while increased economic opportunity, public investment, and community-level connections, can improve health and safety outcomes. There is evidence that communities with high upward social mobility  experience lower rates of gun homicide (Opens in a new tab).

Even as crime has fallen in America over the last four decades, the percentage of murder cases involving Black and Hispanic victims that are solved—known as the clearance rate—has decreased. This lack of justice harms trust between communities and police, and can lead to acts of retaliatory violence.

Income inequality—the widening gap between rich and poor—has been tied to increased gun homicide rates.

Studies have shown that stronger firearm laws, particularly universal background checks, decrease gun homicides and that  weaker gun laws in neighboring states can lead to increases in violence.  (Opens in a new tab)

Prevalence

See Where Gun Violence is Occurring in Our Communities

Data on the prevalence of gun violence is tracked by various public and private efforts. You can explore national and local data below to understand where gun violence is occurring and how it’s changed over time.

The CDC provides state-level data of leading causes of death in the United States, sortable by sex, age, race, ethnicity, and cause, including gun violence.

This data visualization project has plotted 190,000 shootings over six years to offer a look at where gun violence is happening in your community.

Interventions

Understand Community-Led Efforts to End Gun Violence

Violence prevention efforts across the country have shown that communities can take steps to counter gun violence. Below is a list of information about interventions, as well as organizations currently doing this work.

In this TED Talk, Chicago epidemiologist Dr. Gary Slutkin describes the public health foundations of violence interruption. Interruption and mediation have become a key feature of several successful violence prevention programs, including among MBK Alliance grantees in  Omaha, Nebraska Yonkers, New York Loíza, Puerto Rico, and  Chicago, Illinois.

An evaluation of  Youth Guidance’s Becoming a Man program, which counsels young men using cognitive behavioral therapy techniques, showed a significant reduction in youth violence. Now in its 19th year, the Becoming a Man program has since expanded to Boston, L.A., and Seattle.

Whether through a combination of wraparound services, educational opportunities, and employment programs ( Chicago CRED (Opens in a new tab)), or direct cash stipends ( Advance Peace Stockton (Opens in a new tab)), a number of violence prevention organizations are showing promising reductions by identifying those most at risk of committing or facing gun violence and investing in their safety and potential.

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