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The Power of Technology to Prevent Gun Violence and Protect our Cities

Cities boast numerous advantages, including economic opportunities, better access to services, and strong and diverse networks. And in general, residents of cities are healthier and wealthier than their peers in suburban and rural communities.      

However, there are also significant challenges associated with maintaining the health and safety of densely populated areas, ranging from non-communicable diseases and overcrowding to crumbling infrastructure and gun violence.       

While gun violence affects communities around the world, the problem is particularly acute in the United States, where there are nearly 13,000 firearm homicides a year. The firearm homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries. And guns are also responsible for approximately 50 percent of suicide deaths.    

Gun homicides in the US occur disproportionately in cities, posing a threat to community safety, prosperity, and wellbeing. In one year alone, half of all gun homicides took place in just 127 cities, which contain less than a quarter of the US population. 

Within cities, gun violence is usually concentrated in a few neighborhoods and even further concentrated within small social networks that may include less than one percent of the city’s population. Gun homicides, nonfatal shootings, and exposure to gun violence tend to particularly impact communities of color, reflecting and intensifying long-standing racial inequities.    

Urban gun violence not only leads to deaths and injuries, but it can discourage people from spending time outdoors. It also erodes perceptions of safety, stifling the interconnectivity of communities as a whole. Fear for safety sometimes leads individuals to carry a gun, increasing the risk of deadly interactions or criminal justice consequences.

In addition to stunting the economic growth of individual neighborhoods, gun violence can have adverse impacts on the mental health and academic performance of children and teens exposed to it on a regular basis, creating long-term consequences.

Cities and organizations across the country have identified environmental and structural drivers of gun violence and paired community-based resources with existing institutional responses and agencies to magnify impact. Some of the most effective community-based programs focus on the cyclical and contagious nature of gun violence.      

Violence intervention programs use data to identify individuals and situations at the highest risk of shooting or being shot and work to reduce violence through targeted interventions. Similarly, community leaders around the country have focused on preventing crime by improving how neighborhoods look and feel. However, these community-driven initiatives often lack the in-house capacity to deploy data solutions.

Police and health care agencies have also been innovating to improve the odds of survival, community perceptions of safety, police responsivity, and the likelihood of quick identification and intervention with perpetrators of gun violence.      

However, many cities find that their responses to gun violence are siloed among agencies—such as law enforcement, public health, social services, and corrections—and face significant communications challenges. Furthermore, local jurisdictions have limited public funding available to support expensive software upgrades, analytical personnel, and new technologies.    

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund is excited to partner with MIT Solve to fund a gun violence reduction prize of $100,000—because the use of accurate, reliable, and transparent data and technology can mean the difference between life and death. Through this prize, we’re looking forward to reviewing a wide array of solutions that address the upstream drivers of gun violence—such as urban design, poverty, or access to firearms—or the downstream impacts, such as psychological trauma.

Do you have ideas for a data or digital technology tool designed to reduce city gun violence? Submit your solution today!

For more information about gun violence in the United States or the Everytown for Gun Safety Prize, visit https://everytownresearch.org, or email Solve at solve@mit.edu.


Image: Courtesy of Pixabay

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