Thomas Abt and His 8-Year Plan to Dramatically Reduce Gun Violence

A former Obama administration official on his $100m strategy to save lives across 40 cities

By Thomas Abt

Tue 10 Dec 2019 12.43 EST

This summer, I published a book called Bleeding Out that explains how we could reduce gun violence by 50% in the US’s 40 most violent cities. The plan would take eight years and could save more than 12,000 lives. It would cost about $100m a year.

Many people find it hard to believe that we can do a lot with a little on this issue. But urban violence is actually a more solvable problem than most of us realize.

In the cities that struggle with high rates of violence, shootings are concentrated among a surprisingly small set of people and places. It doesn’t concentrate in entire communities or neighborhoods. Even in the most allegedly dangerous places, the vast majority of people are not violent, and there are plenty of safe spaces.

In fact, in most cities, about 4% of city blocks account for approximately 50% of crime. In Oakland, 60% of murders happen within a social network of approximately one to two thousand high-risk individuals – about 0.3% of the city’s population. In New Orleans, a network of 600 to 700 people, less than 1% of the city’s population, account for more than 50% of its lethal encounters.

Conventional wisdom tells us that to address violence, we need to work from the outside in, starting by fixing everything else: culture, poverty, racism, employment. But all of the most rigorous and reliable evidence tells us the opposite: we have to work from the inside out, focusing first and foremost on the highest-risk people and places.

What do we do once we’ve identified who’s most at risk? That’s more complicated. It’s easy to say, “Just get all the guns off the street,” but it’s very hard to do that. It’s easy to say, “Just get everyone a job,” but again that’s hard to actually do. What the evidence shows is that the more effective solutions are actually a bit harder to explain.

I’ve worked on urban violence prevention policy for years, first as a prosecutor in Manhattan, then in Obama’s justice department, and finally for Governor Andrew Cuomo back in New York. What I’ve seen – and what the evidence shows – is that the best strategies to reduce urban gun violence have three things in common: focus, balance and fairness.

 In the US, the strategy that has worked the best to reduce urban gun violence is ‘focused deterrence.’

Effective strategies focus narrowly on the “hot people” or the “hot spots” driving most of the violence. They balance the threat of punishment with prevention, ie real efforts to help even the highest-risk people change their lives without going to prison. And, to be most effective, they need to be perceived as fair – they need to have support and legitimacy within the communities most affected by violence.

In the US, the strategy that has worked the best to reduce urban gun violence is “focused deterrence”, sometimes referred to as the Group Violence Initiative or Ceasefire. It does not work perfectly, and it does not work every time, but it works better, on average, than anything else out there.

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Read more about this strategy HERE. It is do-able!

Can you get behind this kind of strategy in your city?