1. I. Introduction (10m)
  2. II. Violence Reporting (40m)
  3. III. Violence Storytelling (10m)

Violence Guide

Issue: Gun Violence


Before guns, there were other weapons – fists, clubs, knives, and many more. But the presence of guns is what makes violent impulses exponentially more dangerous.

What are the responses?

Japan simply forbids almost all gun ownership. Australia and Great Britain have banned many semi-automatic weapons and created a national firearms registration systems.

America mostly hasn’t taken that path (though there is Hawaii). Gun violence is often caused by a small number of high-risk people harming themselves and others with guns; targeting those few is often more effective than a broader community approach.

Beginning in 1996, after a sharp increase in killings of young people, Boston police – collaborating with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the departments of parole and probation, and other agencies – used quantitative and qualitative research to identify chronic offenders and gang members who were associated with many of the city’s homicides. Officers confronted participants about the risks they faced, offered support, and cracked down on groups that kept shooting. That “focused deterrence” approach led to a 63% drop in youth homicides within two years.

Boston’s “Operation Ceasefire” approach has been iterated in other cities. An effort in Richmond, California, went a step further, offering 50 individuals most likely to commit violent crimes training and career guidance, but tossed in cash stipends as further incentive to cease violent activity. In Trenton, N.J., officials formed a Shooting Response Team that investigated all shootings and was able to identify chronic offenders. In tandem with a court strategy that eliminated one-year plea deals for gun offenders, Trenton found itself able to better keep violent offenders off the streets. And in Rochester, N.Y., officials and researchers saw that petty disputes often led to deadly violence. Front-line officers set about to track street-level arguments, informing analysis that helps officials determine which arguments are likely to continue and escalate, and to develop responses that stave off violence before it happens.

What to look for :

The Ceasefire approach depends on cooperation between police, courts, and community groups. It can be hampered if catalytic leaders leave, political support ebbs, or funding evaporates. In general, these strategies take some time to play out; it’s reasonable to report on them early on, noting if evidence on their efficacy is lacking, and then return for follow-up stories as a track record emerges.


“It's not enough to simply find a lone crusader who is working to change a broken system, and to profile him or her -- the goal is, when possible, to look more deeply, at systems-level change rather than at singular individuals painted as heroes. That helped me to think about the challenge of reporting on our false narratives around gun violence -- it shaped my decision, for instance, not just to profile one spectacular individual fighting to change the narrative around crime survivors (i.e. Aswad Thomas), but instead, to profile two groups (Common Justice and Californians for Safety and Justice) working side by side to reshape an entire field of survivor narratives and to build something much larger than the sum of their parts.”

Sarah Stillman
John Jay Fellow
Issue: Childhood Trauma

Issue: Mental Health