Journal Issue: Children, Youth, and Gun Violence Volume 12 Number 2 Summer/Fall 2002
Communities can play an important role in reducing youth violence. A recent study by the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry found that access to firearms poses a particularly serious risk to youth who live in communities where violence is widespread. On the other hand, the study cited supportive communities as key to protecting youth from violence.3
For these reasons, many approaches to reducing youth violence target communities as a whole. These campaigns typically link community resources such as hospitals, law enforcement, businesses, schools, the media, and social service providers. The goal is to bring members of the community together to assess the extent of the problem and to empower them to be part of the solution.4 Gun-free school zones, community revitalization efforts, after-school programs to keep children off the streets, and media promotions through billboards, mass mailings, and public service announcements are all examples of community activities aimed at modifying the behavior of individuals within communities.
Although community campaigns to reduce youth violence in general are common, few focus specifically on reducing firearm violence. Two programs that have had this focus are the Safe Kids/Healthy Neighborhoods Injury Prevention Program in New York and Safe Homes and Havens in Chicago. Both programs were designed to target the neighborhood and to reduce children's exposure to handguns, educate residents about violence prevention, and provide children with a safe place in which to play. The Safe Kids/Healthy Neighborhoods Injury Prevention Program, which included a playground revitalization and supervision component, was found to reduce gunshot injuries in the community in which it was implemented. However, a similar finding was noted in a control neighborhood, suggesting a general trend in the community rather than an effect of the program.5 The Safe Homes and Havens program was not evaluated and is no longer being implemented.
Because community campaigns are multifaceted, it is difficult to evaluate their effectiveness. Even for campaigns associated with reductions in gun-related injuries and deaths, it is nearly impossible to determine which of the many individual components of the campaign may be responsible. Nonetheless, the National School Safety Center believes that programs incorporating the elements described in Box 1 may be successful in reducing youth gun violence.