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Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review
qualitative research techniques to create an assessment of the nature of and dynamics driving youth violence in Boston; (3) developing an intervention designed to have a substantial, short-term impact on youth homicide; (4) implementing and adapting the intervention; and (5) evaluating the intervention’s impact (Kennedy et al., 1996). The project began in early 1995 and implemented what is now known as the Operation Ceasefire intervention, which began in late spring 1996. While the Boston Gun Project initially focused on firearms and firearm-related violence, the focus evolved as it found that gangs and violent gang offending were central to Boston’s youth gun violence problem. To trigger intervention, any serious violent offending by a gang (knives, blunt instrument beatings) was enough. In practice, however, it was mostly gun offending. Because much of the youth violence epidemic in the 1990s involved firearms and because the Boston Gun Project is cited as a highly effective way to reduce youth firearm-related violence, we devote attention to it in this report.
The project has been extensively described and documented (Kennedy et al., 1996; Kennedy et al., 1997; Kennedy, 1997). Briefly, a working group of law enforcement personnel, youth workers, and researchers diagnosed the youth violence problem in Boston as one of patterned, largely vendetta-like hostilities(“beefs”) among a small population of chronic criminal offenders, and particularly among those involved in some 60 loose, informal, mostly neighborhood-based groups (these groups were called “gangs” in Boston, but were not Chicago- or LA-style gangs, which are much larger and more formally organized). As this diagnosis developed, the focus of the project shifted from its initial framework of juvenile violence and firearm-related violence to gang violence. A central hypothesis of the working group was that a meaningful period of substantially reduced youth violence might serve as a fire-break and result in a relatively long-lasting reduction in future youth violence (Kennedy et al., 1996). The idea was that youth violence in Boston had become a self-sustaining cycle among a relatively small number of youth, with objectively high levels of risk leading to nominally self-protective behavior, such as gun acquisition and use, gang formation, tough street behavior, and the like: behavior that then became an additional input into the cycle of violence (Kennedy et al., 1996). If this cycle could be interrupted, a new equilibrium at a lower level of risk and violence might be established, perhaps without the need for continued high levels of either deterrent or facilitative intervention. The larger hope was that a successful intervention to reduce gang violence in the short term would have a disproportionate, sustainable impact in the long term.
The Operation Ceasefire “pulling-levers” strategy was designed to deter by reaching out directly to gangs, saying explicitly that violence would no longer be tolerated, and backing up that message by “pulling every lever” legally available when violence occurred (Kennedy, 1997). Simultaneously, youth