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Hope Amidst Violence

September 28, 2020
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.

Lack of social mobility, social capital, and community investment Opens in a new tab

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 .

Unsolved shootings in Black and Brown communities 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 Opens in a new tab

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

Easy access to firearms Opens in a new tab

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


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.

Centers for Disease Control Opens in a new tab

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.

The Trace Atlas of American Gun Violence Opens in a new tab

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.


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.

Violence Interruption: Let’s Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease Opens in a new tab

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, NebraskaYonkers, New YorkLoíza, Puerto Rico, and Chicago, Illinois.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Opens in a new tab

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.

Investment Opens in a new tab

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.

Pastor Tracey Lee with a community member

Learn what you can do to prevent gun violence

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