Gun Violence Work

Our gun violence work is being used to support the Houston and Chicago gun violence efforts.

Impact Story

In 2020, the United States experienced the highest per capita gun death rate in 20 years and the greatest number of gun deaths of any year on record. Like other cities in the country, Houston has seen a sharp increase in gun violence and homicides in general. There were 281 reported homicides in Houston in 2019, 400 in 2020, and over 470 in 2021. Gun violence and violent crime are clearly on the rise, and in addition to being a public safety crisis, ongoing gun violence exposure has major implications for mental health and education, with the ability to perpetuate itself by influencing future gun carrying and future violence perpetration.

As one component of our efforts to address the gun violence epidemic in Houston and the rest of the country, the Center for Justice Research has partnered with Delaware State University, Coppin State University, and Jackson State University for an Understanding Gun Possession Among Young Males study. Funded by the National Coalition on Gun Violence Research and initiated and overseen by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, this four-city gun violence study examines gun possession among young males in high-crime cities with the goal of informing support services, violence prevention, and intervention efforts.

So far, we have put out two reports on this project:

The first quarterly report reviewed the literature on adolescent crime patterns and characteristics. Overall, we found research on causes and motivations of adolescent violent crime to be limited and scattered. Our research suggests that social norms and antisocial behavior can be strong predictors of gun possession, and prior trauma is also correlated with gun possession among youth, culminating in a need for cultivating prosocial behaviors and youth supports.

Our second quarterly report examined predictors of adolescent violent crime in the four cities under study. We found that common social context factors for these high-crime areas included high STD rates, single-parent households, food insecurity, lack of sleep, housing segregation, and difficulty affording housing costs, to name a few. These cities also shared social distress predictors, such as unemployment, income, and population density. One of our key findings, corroborated by previous research, was that these factors relate to class, not race. We have the opportunity to address predictors of youth violence through greater community resources and outreach, along with effective public policy—in other words, nonpunitive responses. These results can also be found in Crime and Delinquency.

In a recent op-ed we wrote for the Brookings Institution, we discussed the inefficacy of solely increasing police funding to combat gun violence and the need for targeted, nonpunitive measures. Incarceration and punitive responses alone do not reduce gun violence. Indeed, exposure to the criminal justice system negatively impacts factors that contribute to gun violence, in part, through difficult reentry processes that make it near impossible for formerly incarcerated individuals to obtain gainful employment, housing, mental health or substance use support services, and overall stability. For this reason, in addition to gun violence prevention efforts, we partnered with January Advisors to create the Texas Re-entry Dashboard, an online portal containing over 4,600 re-entry services in Texas, with the ability to filter by county and type of service.

Ultimately, gun violence is a multi-faceted problem requiring a multi-pronged solution. Nationwide solutions to this problem must be culturally responsive and public health-oriented to address the many factors that contribute to gun violence in the first place, such as poverty and unemployment, unaddressed trauma and mental health challenges, and gun access. At the Center for Justice Research, we continue our work in the area of gun violence prevention and related policy to inch toward safer, more equitable communities.

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