"A lot of communities are really trying to do something about it, but they don't know what to do," says Jeremy Wilson, a researcher at the RAND Corp.'s Center for Quality Policing who has studied antiviolence efforts in Pittsburgh and other cities.
Tougher policing has been one answer. In Chicago, the police recently announced new measures to cope with a spring upsurge in shootings, such as equipping officers with powerful rifles and sending them in SWAT-like gear into troublesome neighborhoods.
Increasingly, however, cities are looking for strategies that go beyond law enforcement and strike at the causes of gun violence. These strategies typically involve helping communities resist violence from within and weaning young men from reliance on gangs. In Los Angeles, a city that has been struggling with gang warfare for decades, officials have been trying to broaden their approach after a 2006 study found numerous shortcomings in previous antigang efforts, including an overreliance on policing.
"You've got to stop the flow of young people into gangs in the first place," says Jeff Carr, deputy mayor for gang reduction and youth development in L.A. "If you arrest one guy and there are three waiting to take his place, you're not going to solve the problem."
One effort that has attracted attention is the Chicago Project for Violence Prevention and its antiviolence campaign, CeaseFire. Based at the University of Illinois's Department of Public Health, CeaseFire treats gun violence as a public health problem and fights it by trying to change individual behavior and community norms. The police "catch people after they cross the line," says Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who started CeaseFire eight years ago. "Our job is to keep them on this side of the line."