1 David M. Kennedy, Juvenile Gun Violence and Gun Markets in Boston 1 (1997)

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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Justice Programs
National Institute of Justice

National Institute of Justice

             Research                                      P revi ew

Jeremy Travis, Director

March 1997

Juvenile Gun Violence and Gun Markets

                                     in Boston

               A Summary of a Research Presentation by David M. Kennedy, Harvard University

Like other major cities in the United States, Boston is
grappling with the problem of youth violence in certain of
its poor minority neighborhoods. Over the past 5 years,
the city has experienced 155 youth homicides by gun
and knife-most of which were gun victimizations of
young black men. Although gun violence began when
youths started selling crack cocaine in the 1980s, today
youths in Boston's high-risk neighborhoods frequently
carry and use guns out of fear and as part of a larger
dynamic of gang activity.
Among  recent efforts to contain gun violence in Boston,
a National Institute of Justice-supported problem-
solving project was launched to devise and implement
strategic interventions and evaluate their effectiveness.
Its unique approach has focused on first analyzing the
supply and demand for guns and then trying unorthodox
methods both to disrupt illicit firearms markets and deter
serious youth violence. For more than a year, Harvard
researchers have been meeting biweekly with a working
group whose members  include representatives of the
Boston Police Department, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the U.S. Attorney's Office,
the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, the Massa-
chusetts Department of Probation, and city-employed
gang outreach and mediation specialists known as
street workers.

Boston's   illicit gun market
Supply side. From the project's onset, the team recog-
nized the need for disrupting the city's illicit gun market.
They were already well aware of a freewheeling illicit
firearms market, in spite of strict regulations governing

the sale of firearms in Massachusetts. It had been
assumed  that all guns ending up in the hands of juve-
niles were being brought in via the 1-95 pipeline from
Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi. However,
analysis determined that one-third of the traceable guns
recovered from youths in the past 5 years had been
purchased originally in Massachusetts-a discovery in
keeping with what is known about the primary source of
handguns even in other heavily regulated States, such
as California. In Massachusetts, this local market had
been almost entirely ignored by law enforcement.
Eighty percent of the guns taken from youths were
handguns; of these, slightly more than 50 percent were
semiautomatic pistols. Trace analysis revealed that more
than 25 percent of the pistols recovered from youths
were less than 2 years old, nearly half of these had been
recovered within 6 months of initial retail sale, and the
serial numbers on 20 percent had been obliterated.
Moreover, of the thousands of new gun brands available
on the market, five made up 40 percent of the total guns
recovered. Together, the characteristics of the handguns
taken from youthful offenders-purchased (for the most
part) out-of-State, very new, semiautomatic, and obliter-
ated serial numbers-pointed to the existence of a flow
of new guns diverted into the illicit market at points very
close to first retail sale; this was not the pattern of guns
burgled from houses that is typical of adults.
Demand  side. The researchers' practitioner partners
argued from the beginning of the project that youth
homicide in Boston was a problem of gang-involved,
serial-offending youths victimizing one another. The
project team began looking for clues in the backgrounds

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