How to Reduce Gun Violence

There are about 10,000 gun homicides in America every year. This does not include the number of people harmed but not killed by guns, and in fairness, it also does not include the number of defensive gun uses either. Whatever the case, it cannot be understated enough that we are a violent society and guns are often used to commit violence.

Too often in America we have a high profile gun killing set the direction of the policy to be pursued. But high profile events are high profile because they are unlikely, and an unlikely event is hard to prevent through legislation. The vast majority of gun shootings are done with a handgun, not at a school and not by people with a mental illness. Yet, we try to reduce access to assault rifles, spend a disproportionate about of time on school safety (disproportionate, not ill spent) and focus on mental illness as a reason for a shooting. Each of these are important and should be addressed, but we are missing the point and not going to reduce most of the gun violence in America by focusing on these three things.

A lot is written from a political point of view about how to reduce gun violence. The right likes to say that we need more guns so people can protect themselves from gun violence, while the left likes to say we need fewer guns. The right is wrong because where there are more guns there is also more gun accidents and more gun violence, and the left is wrong because there is no way to realistically, politically, constitutionally or in any way eliminate 300 million guns in America.

I have written in the past that both sides of this issue cherry pick data points. The pro-gun lobby often states that Chicago has the strictest gun laws yet high rates of gun violence. But they don't mention that Louisiana and Alaska have very lax gun laws and high rates of gun violence. Or that Massachusetts has very strict gun laws and low rates of gun violence. I have also written before that there is no correlation between rates of homicide and the Brady Campaign's ranking on gun law toughness.

Neither side in this debate is arguing about what has been empirically proven to work to reduce gun violence. Neither side in this debate has really consulted the peer reviewed academic publications that measured real world gun violence reduction interventions.

What Actually Works to Reduce Gun Violence?

Crime is like a disease on a community. And like any disease there needs to be a correct diagnosis and an effective remedy.

A diagnosis of the specific violence problem within the municipality as it applies to violent crimes including, firearm violence, firearm related arrests and robberies must be the first step. There also needs to be a review of existing evidence-based literature discussing successful intervention strategies. At least one specific intervention strategy from existing evidence-based literature that fits the needs of the qualifying municipality. The means to decrease gun violence should be based on a previously identified successful outcomes published in a peer reviewed top tier academic journal. They could include one of the following practices:

This is a list of proven remedies to gun violence. This list does not tinker on the margins. This addresses what drives out gun homicide rates.

Because this would be a publicly funded grant program, the manner in which the strategic intervention and evidence-based approach will be implemented, including, but not limited to:

  • A description, justification and cost of the necessary physical materials, if any;
  • A description of the police training, including the cost of overtime needed to pay for the police training;
  • A description of the strategy and tactics the police shall use;
  • A timeline for the strategy and tactics that shall be used; and
  • A description of how every dollar of the grant contract with the qualifying municipality shall be spent;

State Legislatures and Local Government Partnerships

State legislatures should work with the governor's throughout the country to give municipalities what works to reduce gun violence where it is happening. This avoids the political hot potato of taking guns away from responsible law abiding gun users. Gun violence is a priority everywhere and budgets are drafted as a reflection of legislative priorities. Therefore, it is fair to say that states have the money to expend to reduce gun violence.

Legislatures can appropriate for specific purposes and subject to specified conditions a grant program to be known as the gun violence reduction program. The amount of money appropriated can be a reflection of the needs of the states' highest gun crime municipalities.

Once the money is appropriated by the state legislatures, the governors' offices are ideally suited to establish a program to provide high-crime gun violence reduction grants to municipalities for the purpose of training police to reduce violence in high-crime municipalities in accordance with this section.

Which Municipalities Get State Help?

Municipalities would need to meet certain criteria so that only the municipalities with the highest rates of gun violence will qualify and therefore be able to apply. It makes no sense to give a grant to train the police in a community that has little to no gun violence.

One way to identify which communities have a need or meet the criteria is to use the FBI UCR crime data. Data points can include but not be limited to:

  • a designated number of murders or non-negligent manslaughter killings in the municipality per calendar year;
  • a designated number of violent crimes or more per 100,000 residents in the municipality per calendar year;
  • a designated number of total violent crimes or more in the municipality per calendar year;
  • a designated number of firearm related arrests in the municipality per calendar year; or
  • a designated number of non-fatal shootings or more in the municipality per calendar year.

The designated number of each of these would have to be a number that differs from state to state because the levels of gun violence are different from one state to the next.

If a municipality qualifies if may announce a request for proposals from vendors for specific proven gun violence interventions. Alternatively, a potential vendor may approach and offer its services to a qualifying municipality that has not made a request for proposals; provided, however, that once the potential vendor approaches the municipality, the municipality shall follow the state's open bidding laws.

Government's Need To Be Self Critical

The manner in which outcome based performance metrics will be used; provided, however, that the performance metrics needs to exceed anecdotal evidence (too often people say something works with no empirical evidence); exceed correlational analysis (correlation is not causation); exceed pretest and posttest evaluations (these types of evaluations don't rule out third variables being responsible for a reduction in gun violence). We also need to measure the potential for violent crime displacement, and include a description of how a return on investment, or ROI, will be completed; provided, however, that the ROI shall include all primary and secondary cost savings considerations and shall indicate how an opportunity cost will be conducted in the event that the intervention does not produce a successful outcome. The measures need to ensure high internal validity and describe a scientifically rigorous outcome evaluation design using the experimental design or matched pair research design both of which shall be measured in a way worthy of peer review in a top tier academic research journal. Why do we want it to be peer reviewed? Because if we didn't measure it right we can't have any confidence in the results no matter how good the results may sound.

In the military after a combat operation there is an after-action review to look at what happened. We need to do this when we are doing gun reduction strategies. We need to know: what worked, what didn't work, what was promising and ways to benefit from the knowledge of successes, failures, analysis of external validity and potentially unresolved outcomes.

Reiterating that this would be a publicly funded grant program, the qualifications of the vendors offering training to the police and conducting performance metrics should include: a description of relevant education and work experience; and a description of past experience in the specific strategic intervention being offered, including professional references, peer reviewed academic journal publications on the specific intervention, and an affiliation with a college, university or public policy firm that has a primary specialty in criminal justice and public safety interventions.

The municipality could review the proposal and select a vendor to help reduce gun violence that:

  • Is best able to offer an evidence-based solution to the specific violence problem afflicting the municipality;
  • Is best able to implement an evidence-based solution to the specific violence problem afflicting the municipality;
  • Is best able to provide a detailed description of the performance metrics to be used; or
  • Has the most relevant experience in directing evidence-based anti-violence reduction interventions successfully used by police.

The program and vendor selected by the municipality could then be forwarded to the governor's office for its review. Once the governor's office determines that all requirements and criteria have been met, it could authorize the release of the grant to the municipality to procure a grant contract with the vendor to reduce gun violence.

How Much Would This Cost
Based on what I have researched on this issue, talking with people at the DOJ and academics who have done this line of work in the past, the amount of the grant awarded to the municipality would be about $100,000 for a municipal population less than 100,000, about $250,000 for a municipal population between 100,001 and 499,999, and $500,000 for a municipal population of 500,000 or more.

I say that in government we can afford anything but we can't afford everything, therefore what we spend our money on is a reflection of our priorities.

By doing this, we use what works to reduce gun violence by going after who is abusing guns, where they are abusing them, all the while using the current gun laws and doing this at the level of the municipality, which knows what it needs, and with the state's help, which can afford to help. It has been done before. Gun violence needs to be less politicized in American and we need to consult the research on what works.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts on the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security. Paul worked in jail and prison before becoming a State Rep. Paul has a master's in criminology from the University of Pennsylvania and a master's in public administration from Harvard. Paul can be reached at