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Troubleshooting Gun Crimes: Prevention To Reduce Firearm-Related Violence

05.22.24 | 13 min read | Text by Michelle Rippy

Firearm-related violence is tearing apart the social fabric in the United States. Communities continue to be negatively impacted by the increasing rates of firearm violence, with guns being the leading cause of death for children and young adults (1-19 years of age). Gun-related violence killed over 48,000 people in 2022, a 21% increase from 2019. With more than 130 people dying from firearm-related injuries every day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have deemed firearm violence a serious public health issue. While it is challenging to place a dollar amount on the loss of life, injuries, and immediate costs of violence, gun-related violence costs an estimated $557 billion annually, double the U.S. Department of Education Budget for FY 23-24. With the dual epidemic of gun violence and the opioid crisis, coupled with decreased staffing since the COVID-19 pandemic, law enforcement agencies are rapidly running out of resources to battle gun violence to reduce deaths, injuries, and other victimization. A multifaceted approach to preventing gun violence must unite law enforcement, public health, forensic science, community organizations, and education to save lives and reduce continued violence-related trauma.

The Biden-Harris Administration should fund actionable, evidence-based programs for law enforcement, crime laboratories, community organizations, disaster response, and robust data surveillance systems. The Department of Justice (DOJ) would be ideal to provide resources from a law enforcement and forensic science perspective, aided by the CDC, the Department of Commerce (DOC), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist with data collection and analysis, developing standards, and supporting communities impacted by violence. Key recommendations for the prevention of firearm-related violence include:

Challenge and Opportunity

Firearm violence continues to significantly affect our communities. Every 11 minutes, someone dies from firearm-related injuries. Underrepresented minority men, especially teens and young adults, account for most firearm deaths. From 2000 to 2020, African Americans were nearly 12 times more likely to be killed in a firearm-related homicide than white Americans. The racial and gender inequities of firearm violence bleed into the community, where disadvantaged and at-risk youth are exposed to high violent crime rates through direct and indirect exposure. Firearm-related violence is associated with many factors, including concentrated disadvantage from areas with high median incomes and significant levels of poverty, racial segregation, poor current and historical police-community relationships, and institutional racism. The media also perpetuates stereotypes of young African American males as assailants but less commonly as victims, putting less importance on the lives of African Americans in the news cycle. Determining the many factors causing gun violence can help prevent further injuries, improve community safety, and transition at-risk youth to at-promise.

In the first eleven months of 2023, there were 619 mass shootings with four or more people shot in the United States, nearly double the number of mass shootings in all of 2017. These mass shootings include school shootings, with 46 shootings in 2022 and 27 in the first nine months of 2023. The shootings resulted in four deaths and 18 injuries, with over 25,600 students on the school campus when the shootings occurred. These do not include shootings on college or university campuses, including two in 2023 at Michigan State University, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, and Morgan State University, which resulted in four deaths and 10 injuries. The Morgan State University shooting suspect had a previous felony gun charge that was transitioned to a misdemeanor during a plea bargain, allowing him to purchase guns after his conviction.

The newly established White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention (OGVP) will be monitored by Vice President Harris and aligned with the March 2023 Executive Order to increase firearm purchase background checks and increase red flag laws to remove firearms from perceived dangerous persons. Executive Order 14092 also focuses on firearms reported lost or stolen during the transportation of weapons from the manufacturer to federally licensed firearm dealers, with over 6000 guns lost or stolen during the shipping process in 2022 alone. A renewed focus on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 requires the Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Education to provide reports to the President about actions taken to implement the Act and how public awareness and resources were made available to maximize the effects of the Act. Particular attention should be placed on privately made firearms (PMFs), also known as ghost guns, which saw a 1,038% rise in recoveries from 2017 to 2021 and can be easily obtained and constructed without restriction or tracking in most states. Only 13 states have laws restricting PMFs, with the restrictions ranging from requiring serial numbers to background checks for component purchases and not allowing 3D print instructions to be shared (Figure 1). With firearms being deeply rooted in American culture, including being memorialized in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, legal challenges will continue as gun technology changes, new equipment develops to enhance current weapons, and weaponry continues to be available through illicit means, curtailing laws and restrictions.

While laws provide a basis for criminality, law enforcement action is needed to recognize and investigate gun-related crimes, and district attorneys must commit to prosecuting crimes. Significant staffing issues continue to plague law enforcement, limiting the ability to reduce violent crime, act proactively, and work with the community to build healthy relationships. Forensic evidence collection and processing are vital to investigation and prosecution, requiring personnel, training, standards, and technology that is not universally accessible to criminal justice agencies. Law enforcement participation in task forces and collaboration with federal, state, and local partners, including prosecutors, can reduce gun violence but requires significant resources and personnel that are not currently available in all jurisdictions. Law enforcement agencies publicly stating they will not enforce gun laws and emergency orders work against the necessary joint vision and actions needed to reduce violence. 

Examining the efficacy of past firearm-related crime interventions and community efforts while seeking innovative solutions can help build robust and successful gun violence prevention efforts across the nation. No single program or intervention will work for all jurisdictions, so data-driven implementation and research efforts will be required for each community to adequately combat firearm-related crime. Community-based intervention programs vary from local nonprofit organizations and religious groups to national think tanks working with the common goal of reducing violence and improving community well-being. As the causes of gun violence vary by community and region, having non-law-enforcement entities and social workers employed in collaboration with criminal justice agencies may improve well-being and safety while reducing violence. Treating gun violence as a public health issue is an important allied approach to enforcement since public health focuses on research-based avenues to reduce morbidity and mortality. A public health lens can assist in examining societal structural and social factors while reducing the political aspect that can affect gun violence tactics. Public-health-related gun violence research was severely limited by the Dickey Amendment in 1996, which restricted federal funds to advance gun control or gun violence research. With the 2018 omnibus spending bill passed to support firearm-related research, there has not been a significant change to funding, continuing to limit funding for the CDC to research the causes of gun violence.

Plan of Action

Addressing the many aspects of gun violence, including preventative education, requires a multifaceted approach. Collaboration between federal, state, and local government agencies and community organizations is necessary to determine and address gun violence and preventative efforts. The additional details of federal agency involvement and their governmental roles are below.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Housed in the Department of JusticeThe ATF is responsible for enforcing federal laws regulating firearms and other harmful goods while supporting law enforcement and protecting the public.

The ATF is the primary agency to create regional law enforcement-based task forces, assist with reducing in-transit gun thefts from manufacturers to gun dealers, provide training to law enforcement and community members on gun safety, and assist with ballistic evidence processing and tracking through the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)The CDC, the nation’s health protection agency, collects and analyzes vital data to save lives and protect people from health threats.

The CDC is the primary agency to complete robust surveillance on firearm-related injuries and deaths and fund data-sharing with county health departments, emergency departments, and law enforcement to provide real-time information about firearm-related morbidity and mortality events. The CDC should use the data obtained to create public health advisories about firearm risks and concerns about unsafe storage. The CDC should also fund public health-related grants to reduce firearm violence.
Department of Commerce (DOC)The DOC oversees the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which advances science by creating standards to enhance innovation and promote inclusivity.

NIST is the primary agency to develop recommended standards for ballistic evidence processing, firearm-related forensic evidence, and firearm-related investigative processes. The standards should be evaluated through a standards-developing organization to build consensus, due process, and distribute findings.
Department of Justice (DOJ)The DOJ is responsible for upholding the law, protecting civil rights, and keeping our country safe. The DOJ houses multiple organizations, including the ATF, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the Office of Justice Programs (OJP), and Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

The FBI and ATF are investigative bodies that can assist with information-gathering, data-sharing, and evidence analysis. COPS can assist with strengthening relationships with law enforcement and the community, and OJP can provide funding and research initiatives to assist with data-driven decisions and community violence intervention programming.
Department of Education (ED)ED creates policies for educational institutions while administering educational programs, promoting equity, and improving the quality of education.

ED can increase resources for Project Grant to support students impacted by community violence and assist with breaking generational cycles of violence.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)FEMA supports community members and first responders before, during, and after disasters.

FEMA should be funded and tasked to assist in mass shooting situations with 8+ injuries/deaths to provide financial and healthcare assistance, including mental health and trauma-related care.

Recommendation 1. Fund law enforcement, crime laboratories, community organizations, and data surveillance. 

The DOJ should fund action-oriented efforts for states and local law enforcement agencies to focus on reducing firearm-related violence. Creating regional task forces can assist in data-sharing and firearm-specific crime reduction tactics with additional resources and personnel. Funding should also be available to update report management systems to assist with evidence tracking, trends to modified weapons, and types of magazines used, especially the involvement of extended magazines.

Funding of accredited crime laboratories can help expand the use of the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN), which allows cartridge cases found at crime scenes to be matched to guns and other crimes. Training additional ballistics specialists and increasing NIBIN submissions can link more crimes and increase enforcement efforts. NIST should develop and broadcast standards for ballistic evidence collection and processing to assist law enforcement and forensic scientists in improving evidence recovery and analysis as technology and techniques improve. With firearm evidence backlogs persisting, funds for personnel, equipment, and processing costs to assist with the timely submission of firearm-related crime evidence are necessary to improve evidence collection and processing efforts. 

The DOJ should also fund community violence intervention programs spearheaded by local nonprofit and street outreach organizations. With continued distrust of police, especially in the most violent of areas, community-based intervention programs can focus on crime prevention through environmental design, working with at-risk/at-promise youth, and mediating conflicts that do not escalate to require law enforcement intervention.

All DOJ funding should require successful evidence-based practices, such as those outlined in the National Institute of Justice’s, and data collection and evaluation to determine effectiveness. Funding should be competitive grants, studying trends, root causes, and community efforts to reduce gun violence. Researchers should convene at a national firearm-related crime prevention symposium to discuss findings, determine regional and national trends, and outline recommendations to prevent firearm violence.

The CDC should fund real-time data collection efforts to support the National Crime Victimization Survey by hiring more epidemiologists and data entry specialists, expanding current research efforts on firearm violence and injury prevention, and public health-related grants focused on reducing firearm morbidity and mortality. Research and reports, especially resources for action, should be expanded to include firearm-related injuries and deaths and assist with providing comprehensive planning and policy work to communities to combat gun violence. Data modernization efforts are needed to encourage auto-reporting of gun-related incidents from law enforcement, emergency medical services, and hospitals to increase accuracy and real-time reporting and surveillance.

Recommendation 2. Create firearms-related gun violence hubs to support law enforcement efforts. 

Gun violence hubs are regional resources involving multiple levels of criminal justice agencies to share data, assets, and strategies. A hub in central Ohio involves local and state law enforcement, a narcotics intelligence center, Attorney General investigators, and the ATF, which has been vital to linking crimes and aiding in gun crime prosecution. While some large law enforcement agencies, such as Los Angeles and New York City Police Departments, have the resources to run gun crime-related intelligence centers with in-house investigative and forensic personnel with modern technology, most agencies do not have similar capital. Federally funded state-wide or regional hubs in larger states can provide the necessary personnel, funding, and intelligence to battle gun violence while incorporating community intervention programs to ensure alignment with efforts. Vigorous research on efforts and robust data sets are needed to accurately guide future interventions and actions, instead of anecdotal evidence relating to policy implementation that can currently shape programming. The research results should also be made available open-source and presented at local, state, and national levels to share information about implementation and findings.

Increasing communication and pooling resources can help break down traditional silos in local, state, and federal law enforcement. Incorporating community groups into gun violence prevention efforts can bring information and programming closer to the people who need assistance without directly incorporating law enforcement with community efforts. Community violence intervention programs, targeting the most at-risk of victimization and breaking cycles of retaliatory violence, can work in concert with law enforcement efforts, sharing data and resources. Community programs can also assist in using a public health and racial equity lens to determine the root causes of violence and advocate for victims in underserved communities.

Recommendation 3. Develop preventative education for youth and adults.

The Department of Education should create gun violence prevention education and integrate it into all levels of education. The educational program should focus on gun safety when guns are encountered at home; handling pressure to participate in violent activities, including gang membership; situational awareness and safety in mass shooting situations; and anger management. The educational efforts for students can be extended to adults through social media marketing with television and streaming service advertisements. The DOJ should enhance educational requirements when purchasing weapons and ammunition. The DOJ should also complete widespread information sharing about red flag laws for reporting someone who exhibits risks of violence to help save lives while protecting the rights of the person reported.

Advertising to youth was shown to promote tobacco usage, and marketing was also shown to influence gender and ethnic communities to use tobacco. The CDC can evaluate how gun manufacturers market firearms to minors to determine how the marketing can affect health trajectory. 

Recommendation 4. Provide support to help communities recover from gun violence.

Over 4,500 children and teenagers were killed by gunfire in 2022, making gun violence the leading cause of death for this age group. From 2013 to 2022, there was an 87% increase in gun deaths of children and teenagers, with Black youth 20 times more likely to be killed by firearm violence than white youth. The racial disparity in firearm-related deaths can be tied to generational inequities in our health, housing, justice, and educational systems coupled with police mistrust and hurdles to access victim services. Community violence, especially when children and teenagers are shot and survive, has a significantly negative impact on mental health and substance abuse. In the year after a child or adolescent suffered a gunshot injury, research found a nearly 120% increase in pain disorders, an almost 70% increase in psychiatric disorders, and a nearly 145% increase in substance abuse disorders. Parents of survivors have an approximately 30% increase in psychiatric disorders with a reduction of mother and sibling routine healthcare appointments. The mental health and disorder effects on children and adolescents were similar to adult gun violence survivors, who also had significantly increased healthcare costs post-injury. Gun violence effects ripple far from the victims and families and also affect community mental health and healthcare costs.

FEMA offers financial, medical, and mental health resources during and after disasters while working to improve preparedness, response, and recovery efforts from hazards. Traditionally, FEMA response has been to declare disasters, primarily natural disasters, governed by legal authorities of disaster response. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency in September 2023 relating to gun violence, though the emergency did not enact a federal response or recovery from FEMA. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo formally declared a disaster due to gun violence in July 2021 via executive order, which was extended in April 2023. FEMA helped ensure Medicare was extended through the disaster time frame, though no other federal resources were provided. Amendments to disaster acts should include mass shootings with eight or more injuries/deaths, which would be considered mass casualty incidents in many jurisdictions. Funding through FEMA can provide medical and other basic needs resources, enhance safety efforts, strengthen social infrastructure, and promote resilience. FEMA has funded similar programs around building resilient infrastructure relating to hazard mitigation with disasters and natural hazards, promoting partnerships, and building capacity for innovation. FEMA’s Office of Emerging Threats could be used to handle gun violence disaster requests, make connections between data and risk, and bring another layer of operational planning and response to communities from a recovery aspect. FEMA’s Preparedness grants can also be extended to include gun violence, another funding opportunity for local governments and communities.

Budget Proposal

A budget of $500 million over five years is proposed to evaluate the efficacy of current interventions; fund criminal justice, public health, and community intervention organizations; and create preventative gun violence-related education. The foundational research on the current interventions should receive $20 million, requiring transparent findings and a research conference available to practitioners, lawmakers, and community members to share data and assist with determining future research and grant-funding directions.

DOJ should receive $320 million to fund grants, collaborative efforts, community violence intervention programs, gun violence hubs, enhancement of evidence recovery and processing, and development of criminal justice-related standards to improve investigations and prosecution rates. Competitive grants should be offered in addition to guaranteed funding for states willing to create regional task forces and gun violence hubs. All funding should require an evaluation component with results available publicly without paywalls on the Office of Gun Violence Prevention website.

ED should receive $50 million to develop curricula to prevent gun violence and fully integrate it into the grade-specific curriculum for K-12 and require education in colleges. The educational materials created, especially at the college level, will be made public for use in community training programs, ads to reduce gun violence, and other applicable settings.

FEMA should receive $100 million to respond to communities affected by gun violence to provide a disaster response. The Federal Trade Commission should receive $5 million to investigate the marketing of firearms to youth and military-style weaponry. An evaluation of the entire proposal should be funded for $5 million after five to eight years of expected evaluative work. The final report will be made public, in addition to annual progress reports, and available transparently on government websites. 


Gun violence negatively affects the lives of Americans daily, with no end in sight. Firearm intervention efforts and enforcement tend to lack collaboration, data-driven insights, focus on root causes, and sustainable funding. The widespread exposure to gun violence and societal inequities in communities are generally not addressed, though they can lead to significant health and well-being impacts and a continued cycle of violence. Reducing gun violence requires a comprehensive approach through a public health lens involving community input and intervention while creating awareness of effective legal and policy strategies. 

A shared framework between all federal, state, and local agencies is necessary to align priorities, resources, and efforts to mobilize evidence-based initiatives, collect data, and prevent gun violence. Congregating researchers, practitioners, community members, and lawmakers at a firearm-related violence symposium to share efforts, research findings, and outline future paths will be vital to violence prevention nationally. Mobilizing disaster-response-level support to communities affected by gun violence and providing preventative education can provide resources to heal and help break the cycle of violence while providing opportunities for social mobility.

Frequently Asked Questions
How does gun violence in America compare internationally?

The youth firearm-related death rate is ten times higher in the United States than in the next country of similar wealth and size. In 2021, 6 per 100,000 U.S. youth aged 1-19 died due to firearms. Canada had firearm mortality rates of 0.6 per 100,000 people, followed by Austria, France, and Switzerland with 0.3 per 100,000 deaths. Motor vehicle and pedestrian deaths are the top cause of death in youth in Australia, Austria, and Canada, with cancer being the leading cause of death in Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands. Expanding to all age ranges in the United States, Mississippi had 33.9 firearm-related deaths per 100,000 people, followed by Louisiana with 29.1.

What is the role of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention and its connection with the Safer Communities Act of 2022?

President Biden’s March 2023 Executive Order addressed the need for universal background checks nationwide and increased red flag laws, furthering the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act from 2022. The Safer Communities Act included legislative changes to enhance background checks, including into juvenile mental health records, and provide funding to drug courts and intervention programs. The Office of Gun Violence Prevention will have the monumental task of implementing legislative policy, determining the efficacy of current efforts, and investigating leverage points that can assist in reducing and ultimately preventing gun violence.

What can be done to reduce the inequities of community exposure to gun violence?

About half of gun violence can be associated with 5% of city blocks, which are generally underrepresented minority-inhabited neighborhoods. A FEMA-style disaster response to these areas can provide a health and structural foundation to the community, while community-based intervention programs can provide economic and opportunity efforts to help reduce violence. Research on root causes of violence in regions and communities can hone in on areas-specific concerns while determining inequalities that can fuel gun violence.

What are examples of community violence intervention programs?

Community violence intervention programs are local organizations focused on reducing violence in their communities through innovative, non-enforcement-based efforts. Examples of community violence intervention programs include the Alliance for Concerned Men in Washington, DC, the Institute for Nonviolence Chicago in Chicago, IL, No More Red Dots in Louisville, KY, and YouthAlive! In Oakland, CA.

The City of Oakland offered micro-grants to community organizations to promote community healing and gun violence reduction. The grassroots community efforts fund community members and small nonprofits to enact change from the epicenter of violence, which tends to be more well-received than outside efforts to support communities.

The National Institute of Justice’s rates research programs on effectiveness and has over 400 research results involving community violence and intervention programs. A review of rated programs can help determine which efforts can work in different regions, and following evidence-based research can lead to programmatic success.

How will the effectiveness of funded firearm-related prevention efforts be measured?
All funded firearm-related research prevention efforts will require data collection and an evaluation of program effectiveness, with an overall project evaluation of all funded projects to be completed within five to eight years of funding. The research will be transparent and publicly available, sharing successful strategies for expanded implementation to create sustainable mechanisms for reducing gun violence.
Why should we continue to fund firearm-reduction efforts if we are not able to reduce firearm injuries and deaths?

The economic impact of gun violence is over $550 billion annually in the U.S. Gun violence research was officially funded by the federal government for the first time in 2020, allocating $25 million to the CDC and National Institutes of Health. At a state and local level, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on grant funding through federal, state, and philanthropic funding arms, though research findings regularly end up behind academic journal paywalls and are inaccessible to law enforcement and community members. Continuing to fund firearm-reduction efforts will allow the successes of current programs to be appropriately evaluated and data to be shared with researchers and practitioners. Withdrawing funding may take programming and resources from the most vulnerable members of our community, potentially increasing injuries and deaths.

This funding request focuses on reviewing past efforts to determine program efficacy, incorporated with increasing collaboration and resources beyond jurisdictional lines, gun violence prevention education at all grade levels, and a focus on providing financial and health-related resources to communities affected by gun violence to break the cycle of victimization. The combined efforts bring an interdisciplinary approach to an increasingly complex problem that is costing over 100 lives daily.