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NIJ Funded Research on Firearms Violence in Urban Cities: Advancing Scientific Evidence to Inform Practice

Event Dates
Event Duration
90 minutes

 In this full thematic panel, renowned experts will present a series of papers summarizing the newest findings of NIJ-funded research projects on criminal offenses with firearms in urban areas. Researchers used various criminological and other theories, including routine activity theory, socio-ecological and socio-environmental perspectives, and advanced mixed-study methods, including surveys and spatio-temporal designs, to produce scientific evidence to inform practice. Issues concerning gun-involvement among youth living in urban areas, the impact of demolishing or rehabilitating vacant and decaying buildings on firearm violence, and a relationship between the built environment and socio-economic traits on firearm violence will be discussed. A moderated discussion will follow the presentations focusing on the implications findings have on criminal justice and future research.

Presenter #1: Rachel Swaner, Ph.D., Fund for the City of New York / Center for Court Innovation

Title: The Gun Epidemic Reconsidered: Creating a Foundation to Reduce Firearm Violence among Urban Youth

Abstract: Overcoming methodological challenges of past research on youth gun violence, this study employs respondent-driven sampling and participatory methods to investigate the lives and experiences of youth ages 16-24 who are gun carriers or are at high-risk for carrying in New York City. We interviewed 330 youth in order to understand the complex confluence of individual, situational, and macro factors that likely influence gun acquisition and use among the youth. Findings show that these youth were predominantly male, black, and living in public housing, and had significant criminal justice system involvement. Most had experienced their own gun victimization, with 80% having ever been shot or shot at, 70% having seen someone get shot, and 88% having had a close friend or family member who was shot. Eighty-seven percent had ever carried a gun, and more participants felt safer when carrying a gun than when not. The youth talked about gun carrying as a way to protect themselves, particularly when entering neighborhoods other than their own or interacting with people they did not know. Additional findings discuss what participants’ social networks were like, and how guns were part of the culture of these networks. Most (88%) of the youth in our study had ever been in a gang, that their gangs were often fighting with other gangs (89%) and that their gangs have or use guns (83%), but that gang leaders did not require them to have a gun. (Authors: Elise White, Anjelica Camacho, and Basaime Spate, Center for Court Innovation)

Presenter #2: Rose Kagawa, Ph.D., M.P.H., The Regents of the University of California, Davis

Title: Effects of Building Demolitions on Firearm Violence in Cleveland, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan

Abstract: The primary goal of this research project is to identify the impact that demolishing or rehabilitating vacant and decaying buildings in urban areas has on firearm violence and other crime. The author will answer questions as to what is the effect of demolishing blighted properties (in Cleveland and Detroit) or rehabilitating such properties (in Cleveland) on rates of firearm violence, non-firearm violence and property crime; what concentration of interventions is needed to produce the greatest change in rates of firearm violence, non-firearm violence, and property crime; and which property and neighborhood characteristics affect associations between demolition of blighted properties (in Cleveland and Detroit) or rehabilitation of such properties (in Cleveland) and the rate of firearm violence, non-firearm violence and property crime. The topic of demolition as a crime prevention strategy will be discussed.

Presenter #3: Max Griswold, Pardee RAND Graduate School

Title: Latent socio-environmental and physical determinants of firearm violence: An exploratory factor analysis of Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh

Abstract: Studies on the built environment and firearm violence tend to study one feature at a time. However, we might expect neighborhoods to have similar features in the neighborhood. For example, census tracts with lots of sports fields may also have lots of other sports venues, playgrounds, pools, etc., and a sports activities-built environment factor may be associated with less firearm violence. Using publicly available data for four different metropolitan landscapes of the U.S. (Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh), this study applies factor analysis to build environment features of all the neighborhoods in each city separately and estimates the relationship with Part 1 firearm crimes. We compare results across cities and present maps of results in each city. Knowing if and where types of built environment features cluster together in tracts of a city and how they are associated with firearm violence can help urban planners and police better design and patrol cities.

Presenter #4: Luke Muggy, Ph.D., RAND Corporation

Title: How close is too close? Quantifying Attractors and Repellants of Firearms Violence in the Built Environment of Detroit, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh

Abstract: Firearm violence is not uniformly distributed throughout the environmental landscape. In 2015, half of U.S. firearm homicides were concentrated in 127 cities, and even within these cities, fatal shootings tended to be heavily clustered in specific neighborhood areas. While policing strategies that aim to identify these high-risk areas (or “hotspots”) have rapidly expanded over the past decades, much of this work is limited in scope. Our research leverage geospatial analysis to examine the extent to which the locations of built environment features such as libraries, schools, and restaurants influence the spatial distribution of firearms violence. We detect statistically significant relationships between the locations of the built environment and firearms violence through the Cross-K Function for Stochastic Spatial Events. This method compares observed data with the outputs from a Monte Carlo Simulation. We examine results from four diverse metropolitan areas to unearth built environment features that consistently “attract” or “repel” firearms violence. Attractive or repellant influence is further quantified through piecewise linear regression on the density of firearms violence within increasing distances of a feature. The results of this work have implications for urban law enforcement and city planners to support safer community development.

Date Created: September 22, 2021