Background and Purpose: Efforts to reduce gun and related violence have shifted from models that rely solely on criminal justice approaches towards public health models of intervention which stress protective factors, community needs, resources, and education. There is limited research, however, on the experiences of community members where these programs are implemented. This study presents findings from an evaluation of a community level gun violence reduction intervention, with a focus on the perceptions and experiences of community members impacted.
Methods: A qualitative research design was utilized to evaluate perceptions held by thirty-seven community members regarding the impact of a gun and related violence prevention program based on the Cure Violence program model. Participants were recruited via mailing and flyers posted within the community, and a semi-structured focus group guide was developed. Focus group meetings were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim, and a thematic template-coding approach was used for data analysis. A peer debriefing/member checking process was utilized to validate the research team’s data interpretation.
Findings: Data analysis reveals that community members viewed gun and related violence within their neighborhoods as a significant and widespread issue. Most participants described this violence as a source of hopelessness and despair. Participants also emphasized their perceived lack of resources and opportunities within their community, such as a lack of positive activities for young adults and children. The data suggests that participants shared a common belief of the program’s importance to the local community. Many described the program as a resource and opportunity for increase community engagement and described their active involvement in program events. Participants also identified several obstacles and challenges to program implementation such as narrowly delimited geographic constraints, the need for increased program visibility (beyond public gatherings after shooting events), and concern for the use of prior offenders as program staff..
Conclusion and Implications: The findings in this evaluation study showed the opportunity for positive community partnership and empowerment-oriented change in reducing gun and other related violence. The first years of implementation displayed increased collective efficacy, shared ownership of the process, and a commitment to multiple layers of collaboration. This implies that interventions to reduce gun and other related violence must be community-embedded and collaborative, involving community members at every stage of the process. Findings suggest utilizing a comprehensive and multifaceted set of intervention strategies while emphasizing collective efficacy as an effective method of addressing gun and related violence in urban communities.