Strategies for Reducing Gun Violence

Overview of the Report

This report on strategies to reduce gun violence begins with a brief overview of recent trends in gun violence with a particular focus on emerging trends and changes in Canada. A review of literature covers the linkages between gangs, drug markets and firearm accessibility and firearm violence. When possible, the impacts of these factors on patterns of violence are explored at both the individual and community levels.

Overall, the report highlights the prevalence and patterns of homicide and gun violence in North America, Britain, Mexico, Canada and other countries. Particular attention is paid to the role of gangs and drug markets in facilitating violence. In addition, research findings and program evaluations aimed at reducing gun violence are also included. Given the exceptionally high rates of interpersonal violence (especially gun violence) within the United States, and its long history of gang violence, it is not surprising that much of the literature is centered on programs and interventions in America. If the current trends of gun violence involving youth continue in Canada, it is important that Canadian policies learn from the successes and failures of recent gun violence reduction strategies elsewhere.

Recent Trends in Gun Violence

Guns and gun violence have become a growing concern for Canadians, especially within the larger census metropolitan areas (CMAs). Data recently published by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics  shows that the overall homicide rate in Canada continues to remain relatively low (2.04 per 100,000 in 2005), especially in comparison to the United States (5.06 per 100,000 in 2005). The data also highlight several trends that may signal potentially important shifts in the patterns of homicide within Canada.

First, it should be noted that following years of decline, 2005 represented the second consecutive year that homicide rates in Canada have increased. The rate at which firearms are used in the commission of homicides has remained relatively stable over time. However, in 2005, firearms edged out knives to comprise the largest single category of weapon used to commit homicide. More importantly there has been a marked shift in the types of firearms being used. Prior to the mid-1990s, rifles and shotguns were the primary type of weapon used in homicide. In 2005, handguns (58 percent) were used in nearly twice the number of homicides than were rifles/shotguns (30 percent).

In 2005, gang homicides registered an alarming 48 percent increase over the total number from the prior year (72 to 107). Most of the increase in gang homicide was concentrated in the largest CMAs, especially within Ontario and Quebec. Whereas non-gang homicides involve firearms in less than 30 percent of all incidents, firearms were used in nearly 70 percent of all gang homicides. Not surprisingly, gang homicides occur in the larger CMAs.

Identifying trends in gun violence and understanding the reasons that gun violence might be increasing, especially among gang involved youth, has become a priority for governments and citizens. In order to design and implement effective gun violence reduction policies, this report provides a review of the gun violence prevention literature, focusing heavily on efforts to reduce gun violence among gang members.

After a decade long decline, gun violence is increasing in many cities in the United States. Much of this increase is being attributed to the revitalization of urban street gangs. Even in Los Angeles, where overall levels of violence continue to fall, gang violence is once again rising. The increase in gun/gang violence has not been limited to the US. Like Canada, Britain, especially in South London, has also experienced a spate of firearm homicides that have been attributed to conflicts among gangs and groups of youth involved in the illegal narcotics market.