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October 21, 2013

Landmark study on gun violence

by Dan Rodriguez

Do changes to sentencing laws reduce gun violence?

This is the question addressed in a landmark study by scholars and students in the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern Law School. The report, Combating Gun Violence in Illinois: Evidence-Based Solutions, states that not only do mandatory minimum sentences not reduce gun violence, but that they are in fact costly and counterproductive.

The report is posted on the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s website in .pdf form. I urge you to read it.

This report was written to challenge claims about the effectiveness of a proposal by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would establish three-year mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession. A benefit-cost analysis by Jens Ludwig of the University of Chicago Crime Lab argued that such sentences would reduce crime through deterrence and incapacitation.

This is a subject of considerable importance. The gun violence rate in Chicago is far too high and we must take action to make our community safer for everyone. But we must implement policies that actually bring the gun violence rate down. The research discussed in this report clearly indicates that mandatory minimums do not achieve this objective.

What does work? The report also looks at evidence-based programs that demonstrate real promise. One example is the “Boston Model,” which focuses on “targeted enforcement pressure on illicit firearms traffickers” together with a targeted set of “community-based police intervention actions.” This approach reduced firearm violence by 68% in one year, according to research conducted by the National Institute of Justice.

The report has sparked a great deal of discussion and debate. The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn wrote a column on this issue last week entitled “Change of Subject,” which includes a series of robust responses by scholars and activists on both sides of the minimum mandatory sentencing issue.

Combating Gun Violence in Illinois was written on behalf of more than 30 law and social science professors from universities throughout Illinois by Children and Family Justice Center Clinical Fellow Stephanie Kollmann and the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s Dominique Nong, Kenneth & Harle Montgomery Foundation Clinical Fellow. Julie Biehl, Director of the Children and Family Justice Center, contributed, as did clinic students Jamie Liebert, Brendan Mooney, Rebba Omer, and Brett Werenski.

Gun violence is a solvable problem. Our approach must be, as the report states, “smart, strategic and grounded in evidence-based solutions.” It is a step in the right direction, and I commend my colleagues and our students for their efforts.




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