Strategy overview

  • Addressing violence through gun-focused policies and programs: Local governments have limited authority to broadly regulate guns in their community; many evidence-based strategies must be implemented at the federal or state level. However, local governments can take significant steps to prevent gun violence, including through legislation to limit access to firearms and programs to reduce the number of guns in circulation. Local governments can also play a leading role in raising public awareness around gun safety best practices, like reporting lost weapons and safe storage.
  • Reducing the number of guns in circulation: One area in which local governments can address gun violence directly is through initiatives that take guns out of the community. This is commonly achieved through gun buyback programs, wherein local governments and community partners pay residents between $50-$250 for various kinds of firearms. Other approaches include requiring lost or stolen guns to be reported and enforcing safe storage laws, though such legislation is typically passed at the state level; in this scenario local governments play a role through raising public awareness.
  • Limiting access to firearms: Depending on a jurisdiction’s state laws, local governments may be able to advance certain types of legislation that limit access to guns. These can include safe haven laws banning weapons on school campuses, parks, and other community spaces; red flag laws (which prevent individuals at risk for violence from purchasing guns); and enhanced background checks. Without action at the state or federal level, local governments may also attempt to ban certain types of weapons and hardware (like assault weapons, silencers, and ghost guns). However, due to state preemption laws, these may be challenged in court.
  • Raising public awareness: Another key role for local governments in reducing gun violence is through investments in education and public safety campaigns. This can include gun safety programming in schools for both students and parents, creating marketing campaigns around safe gun storage, and promoting anonymous tip lines.

Multiple research reviews of gun violence prevention practices found interventions were associated with a decline in violent gun crime. However, results were mixed in some instances and, due to state and federal preemption, replicability may be limited.

  • A 2016 research synthesis found that firearm licensing laws were associated with a reduction in firearm homicide and suicide rates.

  • A 2016 research synthesis found that universal firearm background checks can reduce firearm homicide and suicide rates.

  • A 2016 research synthesis found that child firearm access prevention laws can reduce firearm suicide and both unintentional injuries and deaths among youth.

  • A 2018 research synthesis found that firearm restrictions for domestic violence offenders can reduces rates of intimate partner violence and reduces homicide rates.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure this strategy addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute has developed an indicator framework to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in gun violence prevention. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

  • Safety from crime: Reported property crimes per 100,000 people and reported violent crimes per 100,000 people. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

  • Safety from trauma: Number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 people. These data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Mortality File and the CDC’s WONDER database.

  • Just policing: Number of juveniles arrested per 100,000. High rates of juvenile arrests provide a strong indicator of overall system involvement and over-policing. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer.

  • Lobby state and federal leaders: Among the most powerful roles a local government leader can play in reducing gun violence is serving as a vocal champion for change. Because legal authority related to guns is often reserved for state and federal policymakers, local governments should work closely with community groups and their counterparts in other jurisdictions to frequently engage with state and federal legislators. Efforts should take place both publicly and privately.
  • Align efforts with community-led violence interruption: Another evidence-based strategy to improve neighborhood safety is through violence interruption programs led by community members. Engage with violence interrupters and other neighborhood safety groups regularly to inform broader gun violence prevention efforts, help set priorities for state and federal lobbying, and to identify which areas could most benefit from gun violence prevention investment.
  • Coordinate with law enforcement, public health agencies:In and around many jurisdictions, federal and state law enforcement and public health agencies maintain a presence. Local government leaders should work to convene local, state, and federal law enforcement. Together, they can share and analyze gun data, review prevention strategies and tactics, and coordinate future approaches. This can be done formally, such as through homicide reviews, or through ad hoc convenings.
  • Frame gun violence as a threat to public health: While gun violence is a community-wide challenge, it is often concentrated in a small number of neighborhoods, which can reduce public focus on the issue. Using a public health lens can help local leaders secure support and resources from groups and individuals that may not otherwise engage, such as medical professionals, public health agencies, hospitals and clinics, and more.
  • Partner with schools, community groups: To amplify public safety messaging and to deliver education programming to at-risk groups, cultivate close partnerships with schools and a wide range of community groups, including faith-based organizations, social service providers, and others. Collaborative efforts can include distribution of informational materials (i.e. on how to contact an anonymous tip line), workshops on gun safety, and reinforcement of other public safety messages.