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1901 assassination of President William McKinley by Leon Czolgosz, using a concealed revolver, at the Pan-American Exposition reception in Buffalo, New York. McKinley died eight days later from his wounds.

Gun violence in the United States is an intensely debated political issue. Violence is most common in poor urban areas and in conjunction with youth activity and gang violence.[1][2] Gun violence is not new in the United States, with the assassinations of President Abraham Lincoln in 1865, and of Presidents James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. High profile gun violence incidents, such as the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and, more recently, the Columbine High School massacre, the Beltway sniper attacks, and the Virginia Tech massacre, have also fueled debate over gun policies.[3]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 52,447 deliberate and 23,237 accidental non-fatal gunshot injuries in the United States during 2000.[4] The majority of gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides,[5] with firearms used in 16,907 suicides in the United States during 2004.[6] Legal policies at the Federal, state, and local levels have attempted to address gun violence through a variety of methods, including restricting firearms purchasing by youths and other "at-risk" populations, setting waiting periods for firearm purchases, establishing gun "buy-back" programs, targeted law enforcement and policing strategies, stiff sentencing of gun law violators, education programs for parents and children, and community-outreach programs. Research has shown mixed results, finding some policies such as gun "buy-back" programs are ineffective, while Boston's Operation Ceasefire (a gang violence abatement strategy) has been effective as an intervention strategy.[7] Gun policy in the United States is also highly influenced by debates over the interpretation of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court took a position for the first time on this issue in District of Columbia v. Heller, holding that the second amendment secures an individual right to own firearms.[8] Gun rights advocates generally support unrestricted gun ownership,[citation needed] whereas gun control advocates advocate various restrictions on gun ownership.


Suicides involving firearms

Some research shows an association between household firearm ownership and gun suicide rates,[7][9] while other research indicates no such association between firearm ownership and gun suicide rates.[10] During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a strong upward trend in adolescent suicides with a gun,[11] as well as a sharp overall increase in a suicides among those age 75 and over.[12] In the United States, firearms remain the most common method of suicide, accounting for 50.7% of all suicides committed during 2006.[13]

Research also indicates no association vis-à-vis safe-storage laws of guns that are owned, and gun suicide rates, and studies that attempt to link gun ownership to likely victimology often fail to account for the presence of guns owned by other people.[14][15] Researchers have shown that safe-storage laws do not appear to affect gun suicide rates or juvenile accidental gun death.[14][15]

Violent crime related to guns


Homicides by weapon type, 1976-2004.[16]
Homicide offenders by age, 1976 - 2004.[17]
Gun and overall homicides in Washington, D.C. are concentrated in crime hot spots located in neighborhoods (including Shaw, Sursum Corda, Trinidad, Anacostia, and Congress Heights) with socio-economic disadvantage, while homicide is rare in other neighborhoods.

While people during the 19th century were concerned about violent crime, it often took the form of riots and other forms of disorder in cities.[18] Gun violence, however, sometimes played a role in these riots (see Haymarket riot). Homicide rates in cities such as Philadelphia were significantly lower than in modern times.[19]

During the 1980s and early 1990s, homicide rates surged in cities across the United States (see graphs at right).[20] Handgun homicides accounted for nearly all of the overall increase in the homicide rate, from 1985 to 1993, while homicide rates involving other weapons declined during that time frame.[21] The rising trend in homicide rates during the 1980s and early 1990s was most pronounced among youths and Hispanic and African American males in the United States, with the injury and death rates tripling for black males aged 13 through 17 and doubling for black males aged 18 through 24.[11][17] The rise in crack cocaine use in cities across the United States is often cited as a factor for increased gun violence among youths during this time period.[22][23][24]

Homicide rates in the United States are two to four times higher than they are in countries that are economically and politically similar to it. Higher rates are found in developing countries and those with political instability.[21][25][26]

Prevalence of homicide and violent crime is greatest in urban areas of the United States. In metropolitan areas, the homicide rate in 2005 was 6.1 per 100,000 compared with 3.5 in non-metropolitan counties.[27] In U.S. cities with populations greater than 250,000, the mean homicide rate was 12.1 per 100,000.[28] Rates of gun-related homicides are greatest in southern and western states.[29]

Homicide rates among 18- to 24-year-olds have declined since 1993, but remain higher than they were prior to the 1980s.[17] In 2005, the 17 through 24 age group remains significantly overrepresented in violent crime statistics, particularly homicides involving firearms.[30] In 2005, 17- through 19-year olds were 4.3% of the overall population of the United States.[31] This same age group accounted for 11.2% of those killed by firearm homicides.[32] This age group also accounted for 10.6% of all homicide offenses.[33] The 20- through 24-year-old age group accounted for 7.1% of the population,[31] while accounting for 22.5% of those killed by firearm homicides.[32] The 20 through 24 age group also accounted for 17.7% of all homicide offenses.[33] Those under age 17 are not overrepresented in homicide statistics. In 2005, 13- through 16-year-olds accounted for 6% of the overall population of the United States, but only accounted for 3.6% of firearm homicide victims,[32] and 2.7% of overall homicide offenses.[33]

People with a criminal record are also more likely to die as homicide victims.[11] Between 1990 and 1994, 75% of all homicide victims age 21 and younger in the city of Boston had a prior criminal record.[34] In Philadelphia, the percentage of those killed in gun homicides that had prior criminal records increased from 73% in 1985 to 93% in 1996.[11][35] In Richmond, Virginia, the risk of gunshot injury is 22 times higher for those males involved with crime.[36]

In 2005, 75% of the 10,100 homicides committed using firearms in the United States were committed using handguns, compared to 4% with rifles, 5% with shotguns, and the rest with a type of firearm not specified.[37] Due to the lethal potential that a gun brings to a situation, the likelihood that a death will result is significantly increased when either the victim or the attacker has a firearm.[38] The mortality rate for gunshot wounds to the heart is 84%, compared to 30% for people who sustain stab wounds to the heart.[39]

U.S. President assassinations and attempts

The most notable assassination victim in early U.S. history was President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. President Lincoln lived only a few hours after being hit in the head by a single .44-caliber handgun round fired by John Wilkes Booth.[40] Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley were both assassinated with handguns; President Garfield was killed by an assailant using a .44-caliber handgun; President McKinley was killed by two rounds fired from a .32-caliber revolver.[40] President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald who used a bolt-action Carcano M1891/38 rifle in 6.5 x 52 mm. Presidents Andrew Jackson and Harry S. Truman were uninjured during assassination attempts, as was President Gerald Ford in two separate attempts only a few weeks apart.[41][42][43] President Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt after being shot by John Hinckley, Jr. with a Röhm RG-14 .22-caliber revolver, and is the only sitting President to survive a gunshot wound.[44] Former President Theodore Roosevelt was shot and wounded during the 1912 presidential campaign.[45] On February 15, 1933, Giuseppe Zangara attempted to assassinate Franklin Delano Roosevelt while the then President-elect was giving a speech in Miami, Florida.[46]

Other violent crime

In the United States, a quarter of commercial robberies are committed with guns.[47] Robberies committed with guns are three times as likely to result in fatalities compared with robberies where other weapons were used,[47][48][49] with similar patterns in cases of family violence.[50] Criminologist Philip J. Cook hypothesizes that if guns were less available, criminals may likely commit the crime anyway but with less-lethal weapons.[51] He finds that the level of gun ownership in the 50 largest U.S. cities correlates with the rate of robberies committed with guns, but not overall robbery rates.[52][53] A significant number of homicides result as a by-product of another violent crime which escalates, with the offender going into the crime without a clear or sustained intent to kill or be killed.[49][54] Overall robbery and assault rates in the United States are also comparable to other developed countries, such as Australia and Finland, notwithstanding the much lower levels of gun ownership in those countries.[51][54]

See also Assault with a deadly weapon

Gun ownership

The General Social Survey (GSS) is a primary source for data on firearm ownership, with surveys periodically done by other organizations such as Harris Interactive.[55] In 2004, 36.5% of Americans reported having a gun in their home and in 1997, 40% of Americans reported having a gun in their homes. At this time there were approximately 44 million gun owners in the United States. This means that 25 percent of all adults, and 40 percent of American households, owned at least one firearm. These owners possessed 192 million firearms, of which 65 million were handguns[56] The number of American homes reporting have a gun in their homes is down from 46% as reported in 1989.[57] Philip J. Cook suggests that increased numbers of female-headed households may be a factor in declining household ownership figures.[21] A National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms (NSPOF), conducted in 1994, indicates that Americans own 192 million guns, with 36% of these consisting of rifles, 34% handguns, 26% shotguns, and 4% of other types of long guns.[58] Most firearm owners own multiple firearms, with the NSPOF survey indicating 25% of adults own firearms.[58] In the United States, 11% of households report actively being involved in hunting,[57] with the remaining firearm owners having guns for self-protection and other reasons. Throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s, the rate of gun ownership in the home ranged from 45-50%.[57] Gun ownership also varies across geographic regions, ranging from 25% rates of ownership in the Northeastern United States to 60% rates of ownership in the East South Central States.[59] The GSS survey and other proxy measures of gun ownership do not provide adequate macro-level detail to allow conclusions on the relationship between overall firearm ownership and gun violence.[21] Criminologist Gary Kleck compared various survey and proxy measures and found no correlation between overall firearm ownership and gun violence.[14]


Between 1987 and 1990, David McDowall found that guns were used in defense during a crime incident 64,615 times annually.[60] This equates to two times out of 1,000 incidents (0.2%) that occurred in this time frame.[60] For violent crimes (assault, robbery, and rape), guns were used 0.83% of the time in self-defense.[60] Of the times that guns were used in self-defense, 71% of the crimes were committed by strangers, with the rest of the incidents evenly divided between offenders that were acquaintances or persons well-known to the victim.[60] Of all incidents where a gun was used for self-defense, victims shot at the offender 28% of the time.[60] In 20% of the self-defense incidents, the guns were used by police officers.[60] During this same time period, 1987 and 1990, there were 46,319 gun homicides,[61] and the National Crime Victimization Survey estimates that 2,628,532 nonfatal crimes involving guns occurred.[60]

The findings of the McDowall's study for the American Journal of Public Health contrast with the findings of a 1993 study by Gary Kleck, who finds that as many as 2.45 million crimes are thwarted each year in the United States, and in most cases, the potential victim never fires a shot in these cases where firearms are used constructively for self-protection.[62] The results of the Kleck studies have been cited many times in scholarly and popular media.[63][64][65][66][67][68][69]

McDowall cites methodological issues with the Kleck studies, claiming that Kleck used a very small sample size and did not confine self-defense to attempted victimizations where physical attacks had already commenced.[60] The former criticism, however, is inaccurate — Kleck's survey with Marc Gertz in fact used the largest sample size of any survey that ever asked respondents about defensive gun use — 4,977 cases, far more than is typical in national surveys.[70] A study of gun use in the 1990s, by David Hemenway at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, found that criminal use of guns is far more common than self-defense use of guns.[71] By the Kleck study, however, most successful preventions of victimizations are accomplished without a shot being fired, which are not counted as a self-defense firearm usage by either the Hemenway or McDowall studies.[60][62][71]

Public policy

Research and statistics have shown that guns intensify crime situations, and increase the likelihood of a more violent or lethal outcome.[51] Public policy approaches generally focus on ways that law enforcement and regulatory agencies may intervene.[51] This includes intervention when a gun is acquired, as with policies prohibiting youths and those with criminal records from buying guns.[51] Policies can also make it illegal for guns to be brought to a crime scene, as in restriction or regulation of who may carry concealed weapons.[51] Policies can also focus on use, by mandating increased sentences for those who use guns in crime, or by requiring guns to have certain safety features.[51]

Gun control proponents often cite the relatively high number of homicides committed with firearms as reason to support stricter gun control laws.[72] Firearm laws are a subject of great debate in the United States, with firearms also widely used for recreational purposes, and for personal protection.[7] Gun rights advocates cite the use of firearms for self-protection and to deter violent crime as reasons why more guns can reduce crime.[73][74][75] Gun rights advocates also say criminals are the least likely to obey firearms laws, and so limiting access to guns by law-abiding people makes them more vulnerable to armed criminals.[60]

Criminologist Philip J. Cook argues for public policy goals of keeping guns out of violent encounters, and recommends approaches that limit the availability of guns to high-risk groups and the accessibility of guns in volatile situations.[51] Cook suggests measures such as background checks for gun purchasers; banning small, easily-concealed handguns; intensive enforcement of illegal gun carrying; and tougher sentences imposed on those convicted of using a gun in a crime.[51]

Access to firearms

The most common type of gun confiscated by police and traced by the ATF are .38 special revolvers, such as this Smith and Wesson Model 60 .38 Special revolver with a 3-inch barrel.[76]

U.S. policy aims to maintain the right of legitimate users to own most types of firearms, while restricting access to firearms by those individuals in high risk groups.[51] Gun dealers in the United States are prohibited from selling handguns to those under the age of 21, and long guns to those under the age of 18.[51] There are also restrictions on selling guns to out-of-state residents.[51]

Assuming access to guns, the top ten types of guns involved in crime in the U.S. show a definite trend in favoring handguns over long guns. The top ten guns used in crime, as reported by the ATF in 1993, included the Smith & Wesson .38 Special and .357 revolvers; Raven Arms .25 caliber, Davis P-380 .380 caliber, Ruger .22 caliber, Lorcin L-380 .380 caliber, and Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handguns; Mossberg and Remington 12 gauge shotguns; and the Tec DC-9.[76] An earlier 1985 study of 1,800 incarcerated felons showed that criminals prefer revolvers and other non-semi-automatic firearms over semi-automatic firearms.[77] In Pittsburgh, a change in preferences towards pistols occurred in the early 1990s, coinciding with the arrival of crack cocaine and rise of violent youth gangs.[78] Background checks in California, during 1998 to 2000, resulted in 1% of sales being initially denied.[79] The types of guns most often denied included semiautomatic pistols with short barrels and of medium caliber.[79]

Among juveniles (for example, minors under the age of 16, 17, or 18, depending on legal jurisdiction) serving in correctional facilities, 86% owned a gun at some point, with 66% acquiring their first gun by age 14.[2] There is also a tendency for juvenile offenders to own many firearms, with 65% owning three or more.[2] Juveniles most often acquire guns from family, friends, drug dealers, and street contacts.[2] Inner-city youths cite "self-protection from enemies" as the top reason for carrying a gun.[2] In Rochester, New York, 22% of young males have carried an illegal gun, though most for only a short period of time.[80] There is little overlap between legal gun ownership and illegal gun carrying among youths.[80]

Firearms market

Source of firearms possessed by Federal inmates, 1997[81]
ATF inspector at a federally licensed gun dealer

Policy that is targeted at the supply side of the firearms market is based on limited research, with this an active area of ongoing research.[7] One important consideration is that only 60-70% of firearms sales in the United States are transacted through federally licensed firearm dealers, with the remainder taking place in the "secondary market."[82][83] Most sales to youths and convicted felons take place in the "secondary market," in which previously-owned firearms are transferred by unlicensed individuals.[84][85] Access to "secondary markets" is generally less convenient and involves such risks as the gun perhaps having been used previously in a homicide.[86] Unlicensed private sellers are permitted by law to sell privately-owned guns at gun shows, or at private locations, in 24 states (as of 1998).[87] Regulations that limit the number of handgun sales in the primary, regulated market to one handgun a month per customer have been shown to be effective at reducing illegal gun trafficking by reducing the supply into the "secondary market."[88] Taxes on firearms and ammunition purchases are another means for government to influence the primary market.[89]

Federally licensed firearm dealers in the primary (new and used gun) market are regulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Firearm manufacturers are required to put serial numbers on all new firearms. This allows the ATF to trace guns involved in crimes back to their last Federal Firearms License (FFL) reported change of ownership transaction, although not past the first private sale involving any particular gun. A report by the ATF released in 1999, found that 0.4% of federally-licensed dealers sold half of the guns used criminally in 1996 and 1997.[3][90] This is sometimes done through "straw purchases."[3] State laws, such as those in Virginia and California, that restrict the number of gun purchases in a month may help stem such "straw purchases."[3] An estimated 500,000 guns are also stolen each year, allowing them to get into the hands of prohibited users.[82][89] During the ATF's Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative (YCGII), which involved expanded tracing of firearms recovered by law enforcement agencies,[91] only 18% of guns used criminally that were recovered in 1998 were in possession of the original owner.[92] Guns recovered by police during criminal investigations often have been previously sold by legitimate retail sales outlets to legal owners and then diverted to criminal use over elapsed times ranging from just a few months to just a few years,[92][93][94] which makes them relatively new compared with firearms in general circulation.[89][95]

Federal legislation

The first Federal legislation related to firearms was the Second Amendment, ratified in 1791. For 143 years, this was the only Federal legislation regarding firearms. The next Federal firearm legislation was the National Firearms Act of 1934. This Act created regulations for the sale of firearms, established taxes on their sale, and required registration of some types of firearms such as machine guns.[96]

In the aftermath of the Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was enacted. This Act regulated gun commerce, restricting mail order sales, and allowing shipments only to licensed firearm dealers. The Act also prohibited felons, those under indictment, fugitives, illegal aliens, drug users, those dishonorably discharged from the military, and those in mental institutions from owning guns.[51] The law also restricted importation of Saturday night specials and other types of guns, and limited the sale of automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons conversion kits.[3]

The Firearm Owners Protection Act, also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act, was passed in 1986. It changed some restrictions in the 1968 Act, allowing federally-licensed gun dealers, as well as individual unlicensed private sellers, to sell at gun shows, while continuing to require licensed gun dealers to require background checks.[3] The 1986 Act also restricted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms from conducting repetitive inspections, reduced the amount of recordkeeping required of gun dealers, raised the burden of proof for convicting gun law violators, and changed restrictions on convicted felons from owning firearms.[3]

In the years following the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, people buying guns were required to show identification and sign a statement affirming that they were not in any of the prohibited categories.[51] Many states enacted background check laws that went beyond the federal requirements.[97] The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act passed by Congress in 1993 imposed a waiting period before the purchase of a handgun, allowing a background check.[98] The Brady Act also required the establishment of a national system to provide instant criminal background checks, with checks to be done by firearms dealers.[99] The Brady Act only applied to people who bought guns from licensed dealers, whereas most felons buy guns from a black market.[100][100] Restrictions, such as waiting periods, are opposed by many, who argue that they impose costs and inconveniences on legitimate gun purchasers, such as hunters.[89]

Semi-automatic versions of the AK-47 assault rifle were affected under the 1994 ban.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, enacted in 1994, included the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, and was a response to public concern over mass shootings.[101] This provision prohibited the manufacture and importation of some semiautomatic firearms that exhibitied military style features such as a folding stock, pistol grip and flash suppressor, as well as magazines holding more than ten rounds.[101] A grandfather clause was included that allowed firearms manufactured before 1994 to remain legal. A short-term evaluation by University of Pennsylvania criminologists, Christopher S. Koper and Jeffrey A. Roth, did not find any clear impact of this legislation on gun violence.[102] Given the short study time period of the evaluation, the National Academy of Sciences also advised caution in drawing any conclusions.[89] In September 2004, the assault weapon ban expired, with its sunset clause.[103]

The Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, 'the Lautenberg Amendment' , prohibited anyone previously convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence from owning a firearm.[104] It also banned shipment, transport, ownership and use of guns or ammunition by individuals convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence. This law also outlawed the sale or gift of a firearm or ammunition to such a person. It was passed in 1996, and became effective in 1997. Some opponents believe that the law conflicts with the right to keep and bear arms protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and this law has modified the Second Amendment to a revocable privilege from a fundamental protection. Opponents of this law tend to describe the law by the name "the Lautenberg Amendment." The law applies to everyone, including police officers and military personnel, and can cause difficulties by prohibiting active duty military and police from carrying guns, due to prior civilian misdemeanor convictions.[105]

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, police and National Guard units in New Orleans confiscated firearms from private citizens in an attempt to prevent violence. In reaction, Congress passed the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act of 2006 in the form of an amendment to Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2007. Section 706 of the Act prohibits federal employees and those receiving federal funds from confiscating legally-possessed firearms during a disaster.[106]

State legislation


Right-to-carry laws expanded in the 1990s as homicide rates from gun violence in the United States increased, largely in response to incidents such as the Luby's massacre of 1991 in Texas which directly resulted in the passage of a carrying concealed weapon, or CCW, law in Texas in 1995.[107] As Rorie Sherman, staff reporter for the National Law Journal wrote in an article published on April 18, 1994, "It is a time of unparalleled desperation about crime. But the mood is decidedly 'I'll do it myself' and 'Don't get in my way.'"[108]

The result was laws that permitted persons to carry firearms openly, known as open carry, often without any permit required, in 22 states by 1998.[109] Laws that permitted persons to carry concealed handguns, sometimes termed a concealed handgun license, CHL, or concealed pistol license, CPL in some jurisdictions instead of CCW, existed in 34 states in the United States by 2004.[7] Since then, the number of states with CCW laws has increased; as of late 2006, 48 states have some form of CCW laws on the books.[110]

Economist John Lott has argued that right-to-carry laws create a perception that more potential crime victims might be carrying firearms, and thus serve as a deterrent against crime.[111] Lott's study has been criticized for not adequately controlling for other factors, including other state laws also enacted, such as Florida's laws requiring background checks and waiting period for handgun buyers.[112] When Lott's data was re-analyzed by some researchers, the only statistically significant effect of concealed-carry laws found was an increase in assaults,[112] with similar findings by Jens Ludwig.[113] Since concealed-carry permits are only given to adults, Philip J. Cook suggests that analysis should focus on the relationship with adult and not juvenile gun incident rates.[51] He finds a small, positive effect of concealed-carry laws on adult homicide rates, but states the effect is not statistically significant.[51] The National Academy of Science has found no evidence that shows right-to-carry laws have an impact, either way, on rates of violent crime.[7] NAS suggests that new analytical approaches and datasets at the county or local level are needed to evaluate adequately the impact of right-to-carry laws.[114]

Child Access Prevention (CAP)

Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws, enacted by many states, require parents to store firearms safely, to minimize access by children to guns, while maintaining ease of access by adults.[115] CAP laws hold gun owners liable should a child gain access to a loaded gun that is not properly stored.[115] Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that, on average, one child every three days died in accidental incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2005.[116] In most states, CAP law violations are considered misdemeanors.[115] Florida's CAP law, enacted in 1989, permits felony prosecution of violators.[115] Research indicates that CAP laws are correlated with a reduction in unintentional gun deaths by 23%,[117] and gun suicides among those aged 14 through 17 by 11%.[118] A study by Lott did not detect a relationship between CAP laws and accidental gun deaths or suicides among those age 19 and under between 1979 and 1996.[15] The National Bureau of Economic Research has found that CAP laws are correlated with a reduction of non-fatal gun injuries among both children and adults by 30-40%.[115] Research also indicates that CAP laws are most highly correlated with reductions of non-fatal gun injuries in states where violations are considered felonies, whereas in states that consider violations as misdemeanors, the potential impact of CAP laws is not statistically significant.[119] All of these studies are correlational, and do not account for other potential contributing factors.

Local restrictions

Some local jurisdictions in the United States have more restrictive laws, such as Washington, D.C.'s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, which banned residents from owning handguns, and required permitted firearms be disassembled and locked with a trigger lock. On March 9, 2007, a U.S. Circuit Court ruled the Washington, D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional.[120] (For more on this case, see: Parker v. District of Columbia.)

New York City is also known for its strict gun control laws. Despite local laws, guns are often trafficked into cities from other parts of the United States, particularly the southern states.[90][121] Results from the ATF's Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative indicate that the percentage of imported guns involved in crimes is tied to the stringency of local firearm laws.[91]

Prevention programs

Violence prevention and educational programs have been established in many schools and communities across the United States. These programs aim to change personal behavior of both children and their parents, encouraging children to stay away from guns, ensure parents store guns safely, and encourage children to solve disputes without resorting to violence.[122] Programs aimed at altering behavior range from passive (requiring no effort on part of the individual) to active (supervising children, or placing a trigger lock on a gun).[122] The more effort required of people, the more difficult it is to implement a prevention strategy.[123][124] Prevention strategies focused on modifying the situational environment and the firearm itself may be more effective.[122] Empirical evaluation of gun violence prevention programs has been limited.[7] Of the evaluations that have been done, results indicate such programs have minimal effectiveness.[122]

The 1-866-SPEAK-UP Hotline

SPEAK UP is a national violence prevention initiative created by [PAX] [2], which provides students with tools to improve the safety of their schools and communities. Based on the fact that in 81% of school shootings the attackers tell other students about their plans beforehand, the SPEAK UP program features the first-ever, national toll-free hotline for students to report threats of weapon-related violence at school (1-866-SPEAK-UP). The 1-866-SPEAK-UP hotline is the only national hotline for students to anonymously report weapon threats 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week. The hotline is operated in accordance with a rigid protocol developed in collaboration with national education and law enforcement authorities, including the FBI. Trained counselors, with instant access to translators for 140 languages, collect information from callers and then immediately report the threat to appropriate school and law enforcement officials. The counselors also have access to an extensive database of local, city, and state referral sources, which they can offer callers who call with issues unrelated to school violence or weapon threats. Since its launch in 2002, the hotline has received over 30,000 calls from students nationwide.[3] The 1-866-SPEAK-UP Hotline is sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, Children's Defense Fund, National Alliance for Safe Schools, National Association of School Nurses, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of School Safety & Law Enforcement Officers, National Association of Secondary School Principals, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Education Association, National Head Start Association, National School Safety Center and the National School Boards Association, among others.[4]

Gun safety parent counseling

One of the most widely used parent counseling programs is Steps to Prevent Firearm Injury program (STOP), which was developed in 1994 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.[122] STOP was superseded by STOP 2 in 1998, which has a broader focus including more communities and health care providers.[122] STOP has been evaluated and found not to have a significant effect on gun ownership or firearm storage practices by inner-city parents.[125] Marjorie S. Hardy suggests further evaluation of STOP is needed, as this evaluation had a limited sample size and lacked a control group.[122]


Prevention programs geared towards children have also not been greatly successful.[122] Many inherent challenges arise when working with children, including their tendency to perceive themselves as invulnerable to injury,[126] limited ability to apply lessons learned,[127][128] their innate curiosity,[127] and peer pressure.

The goal of gun safety programs, usually administered by local firearms dealers and shooting clubs, is to teach older children and adolescents how to handle firearms safely.[122] There has been no systematic evaluation of the effect of these programs on children.[122] For adults, no positive effect on gun storage practices has been found as a result of these programs.[129][130] Also, researchers have found that gun safety programs for children may likely increase a child's interest in obtaining and using guns, which they cannot be expected to use safely all the time, even with training.[131]

One approach taken is gun avoidance, such as when encountering a firearm at a neighbor's home. The Eddie Eagle Gun Safety Program, administered by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is geared towards younger children from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade, and teaches kids that real guns are not toys by emphasizing a "just say no" approach.[122] The Eddie Eagle program is based on training children in a four-step action to take when they see a firearm: (1) Stop! (2) Don't touch! (3) Leave the area. (4) Go tell an adult. Materials, such as coloring books and posters, back the lessons up and provide the repetition necessary in any child-education program. The ineffectiveness of the "just say no" approach promoted by the NRA's Eddie the Eagle program was highlighted in an investigative piece by ABC's Diane Sawyer in 1999.[5] Sawyer's piece was based on academic studies conducted by Dr. Marjorie Hardy, assistant professor of psychology at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. [6] Dr. Hardy's study tracked the behavior of elementary age schoolchildren who spent a day learning the Eddie the Eagle four-step action plan from a uniformed police officer. The children were then placed into a playroom which contained a hidden gun. When the children found the gun, they did not run away from the gun, but rather, they inevitably played with it, pulled the trigger while looking into the barrel, or aimed the gun at a playmate and pulled the trigger. The study concluded that children's natural curiosity was far more powerful than the parental admonition to "Just say no". [7]

Some gun control advocacy groups have developed their own programs, such as Straight Talk about Risks (STAR), administered by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Hands without Guns, run by the Joshua Horwitz Educational Fund to End Handgun Violence.[122]

Community programs

Programs targeted at entire communities, such as community revitalization, after-school programs, and media campaigns, may be more effective in reducing the general level of violence that children are exposed to.[132][133] Community-based programs that have specifically targeted gun violence include Safe Kids/Healthy Neighborhoods Injury Prevention Program in New York City,[134][135] and Safe Homes and Havens in Chicago.[122] Evaluation of such community-based programs is difficult, due to many confounding factors and the multifaceted nature of such programs.[122]

Intervention programs

Sociologist James D. Wright suggests that to convince inner-city youths not to carry guns "requires convincing them that they can survive in their neighborhood without being armed, that they can come and go in peace, that being unarmed will not cause them to be victimized, intimidated, or slain."[2] Intervention programs, such as Operation Ceasefire in Boston and Project Exile in Richmond, Virginia during the 1990s, have been shown to be effective.[7][136] Other intervention strategies, such as gun "buy-back" programs have been demonstrated to be ineffective.[89]

Gun "buy-back" programs

Gun "buy-back" programs are a strategy aimed at influencing the firearms market by taking guns "off the streets".[89] Gun "buy-back" programs have been shown to be ineffective,[137][138] with the National Academy of Sciences citing theory underlying these programs as "badly flawed."[89] Guns surrendered tend to be those least likely to be involved in crime, such as old, malfunctioning guns with little resale value, muzzleloading or other blackpowder guns, antiques chambered for obsolete cartridges that are no longer commercially manufactured or sold, or guns that individuals inherit but have little value in possessing.[139] Other limitations of gun "buy-back" programs include the fact that it is relatively easy to obtain gun replacements, often of better guns than were relinquished in the "buy-back."[89] Also, the number of handguns used in crime (approximately 7,500 per year) is very small compared to the approximately 70 million handguns in the United States (i.e., 0.011%).[89]

Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition

The Mayors Against Illegal Guns Coalition is a bipartisan coalition of 210 mayors from 40 different United States cities, united in their stated goal of "making the public safer by getting illegal guns off the streets." The group was formed on April 25, 2006, during a summit held at Gracie Mansion in New York City that was hosted by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Operation Ceasefire

In 1995, Operation Ceasefire was established as a strategy for stemming the epidemic of youth gun violence in Boston. Violence was particularly concentrated in poor, inner-city neighborhoods including Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan.[140] There were 22 youths (under the age of 24) killed in Boston in 1987, with that figure rising to 73 in 1990.[140] Operation Ceasefire entailed a problem-oriented policing approach, and focused on specific places that were crime hot spots—two strategies that when combined have been shown to be quite effective.[141][142][143] Particular focus was placed on two elements of the gun violence problem, including illicit gun trafficking[144] and gang violence.[140] Within two years of implementing Operation Ceasefire in Boston, the number of youth homicides dropped to ten, with only one handgun-related youth homicide occurring in 1999 and 2000.[3] The Operation Ceasefire strategy has since been replicated in other cities, including Los Angeles.[145]

Project Exile

Federally-supported gun violence intervention program

Project Exile, conducted in Richmond, Virginia during the 1990s, was a coordinated effort involving federal, state, and local officials that targeted gun violence. The strategy entailed prosecution of gun violations in Federal courts, where sentencing guidelines were tougher. Project Exile also involved outreach and education efforts through media campaigns, getting the message out about the crackdown.[146] Project Exile was evaluated and shown to be effective, however researchers also point out that Richmond might have experienced declining homicide trends anyway during the evaluation period, owing to overall national trends.[146]

Project Safe Neighborhoods

Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is a national strategy for reducing gun violence that builds on the strategies implemented in Operation Ceasefire and Project Exile.[147] PSN was established in 2001, with support from the Bush administration, channelled through the United States Attorney's Offices in the United States Department of Justice. The Federal government has spent over US$1.5 billion since the program's inception on the hiring of prosecutors, and providing assistance to state and local jurisdictions in support of training and community outreach efforts.[148][149]

Research limitations

In the United States, research into firearms and violent crime is fraught with difficulties, associated with limited data on gun ownership and use,[59] firearms markets, and aggregation of crime data.[7] Research studies into gun violence have primarily taken one of two approaches: case-control studies and social ecology.[7] Gun ownership is usually determined through surveys, proxy variables, and sometimes with production and import figures. In statistical analysis of homicides and other types of crime which are rare events, these data tend to have poisson distributions, which also presents methodological challenges to researchers. With data aggregation, it is difficult to make inferences about individual behavior.[150] This problem, known as ecological fallacy, is not always handled properly by researchers, leading some to jump to conclusions that their data do not necessarily support.[151]

See also

Notes and references

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External links

  • Gun violence - National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS)

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