Guns and Politics and What Actually Reduces Gun Violence

Semiautomatic handgun with high capacity magazine and live ammunition.
Semiautomatic handgun with high capacity magazine and live ammunition.

Guns are one of the most divisive aspects of public policy in America. Two sides compete for an outcome. One wants to expand gun ownership and the other side reduce guns in America. Both argue that their own perspective will reduce violence with guns. I disagree. Neither argues from a point of view about what works.

My standard is very simple: Does it work? Alas, child training programs don't work, and this has been reported on by USNEWS, ABCNews, and CNN. More guns, less crime doesn't work. Gun bans don't work.

What Then Works?

I define what works as an intervention in a place that has been measured against another place that didn't get the specific intervention. Did the intervention cause less violence with guns? I am skipping over all of the statistical and research methods mumbo jumbo to get to the point quicker and talk about what works.

If there is a common denominator that we find in interventions of what works we find that going after who is abusing guns and where they are abusing them is critical. This is what I call a bottoms-up strategy. This is usually a community or policing approach. A top down strategy is an intervention that casts a wide net and by definition is going to include people who aren't committing crime with a gun. This is usually a legislative approach.

The Kansas City Gun Experiment is one great example of what works to reduce gun violence. Police were trained how to detect people who were illegally carrying and concealing guns and the focused on the areas that had the most gun violence. The training was implemented in certain areas of the city that were randomly assigned and compared to other randomly assigned areas of the city where police did not get the same training. The result was a nearly 50 percent drop in gun violence. This approach was replicated in several other major cities. No new laws were created. But intervention did cost money in terms of police overtime and training. But it worked.

Another approach to gun violence is known as Operation Ceasefire. In a report on this intervention it states at the bottom of page 1: "The two main elements of Ceasefire were a direct law enforcement attack on illicit firearms traffickers supplying youths with guns and an attempt to generate a strong deterrent to gang violence." The report continues to states that "the implementation of Operation Ceasefire was associated with a 63-percent decrease in youth homicides per month, a 32-percent decrease in shots-fired calls for service per month, a 25-percent decrease in gun assaults per month, and a 44-percent decrease in the number of youth gun assaults per month in the highest risk district (Roxbury)."

In both of these approaches (and many more that I don't have space in a column to cover), the police used current laws to reduce gun violence where it was happening by the people doing it. Gun violence was successfully reduced and it was measured with a scientific rigor that was strong enough to stand up to scrutiny.

Politics is Getting in the Way of Public Safety

A lot of what we see proposed today on TV by political pundits or from special interest groups is only tinkering on the margins. In a recent live town hall style meeting on CNN, President Obama tacitly recognized that none of his executive actions would have prevented any of the recent high profile mass shootings. But he says that is not reason to not take any action. Mass shootings are not what are driving our high gun violence rates in America; individual homicides are. I don't think there is research yet available that tells us what to do on mass shootings.

Too many people throw around 'evidence based' but they don't know what it means. Good research is an evaluation of a real world intervention and when compared against a control group. The outcome doesn't make research good or not; the methodology does.

A lot of the solutions that are proposed by people who fiercely for or against guns just don't work. They argue about what they think should work or what makes sense, or what fits their political worldview, but not what has been empirically proven to reduce gun violence.

I voted against a 40-page gun bill in 2014 because it didn't go far enough to reduce gun violence. The bill tinkered on the margins as there was nothing in it that was an evidence-based approach.

A bill that I have twice filed (H.2136) would reduce gun violence where it is happening by the people doing it, and measure the outcomes. It would cost money but it would be based on peer reviewed empirical approaches to what works. I have published about two dozen articles on gun violence. Gun violence isn't going away under current popular and politicized approaches.