University of Chicago project will help identify promising projects to fight Chicago gun violence

In addition to the human cost of gun violence, felt so wrenchingly on Chicago's streets and in its homes, a new report from the University of Chicago's Crime Lab examines the social costs that amount to $2.5 billion per year, or roughly $2,500 for every household in the city.

The report sets the stage for a new Crime Lab initiative to find and support innovative ideas for preventing gun violence among young people, then rigorously evaluate the programs to see what works best and can be replicated elsewhere.

Today the Crime Lab is launching a design competition for the Chicago Initiative to Reduce Gun Violence Among School Age Youth. The initiative seeks both promising ideas for reducing gun violence and promoting positive youth development in the city's highest-crime areas. The Crime Lab will select the most promising project ideas and invite full proposals from these community partners. The Crime Lab will work closely with one or more winning applicants to raise private funding to implement programs that can be rigorously evaluated by University of Chicago scholars.

Information on submitting a three-page letter of interest is available at

This effort addresses current gaps in research about effective strategies to reduce gun violence, which a blue-ribbon panel assembled by the National Academy of Sciences noted in a 2004 report. The hope is to partner insights from city agencies, non-profits and faith-based organizations about the nature of the youth gun violence problem and potential remedies with the Crime Lab's expertise in carrying out rigorous evaluation projects. Such a partnership would generate evidence about what works best and for whom, while providing a rigorous examination of the problem, much like clinical trials found in medicine.

"Gun violence remains a widespread and preventable threat to the lives and health of Chicago youth and families. So many of these deaths and injuries could be avoided if our society put resources behind the most effective interventions," said Karen Sheehan, a pediatric emergency physician at Children's Memorial Hospital. "The University of Chicago Crime Lab's focus on building rigorous evidence about what works and for whom is an important step forward."

Although cities across the country have launched numerous programs over the years to prevent crime, few have been implemented in a way that can be rigorously evaluated. As a result, researchers and policymakers have had difficulty learning which projects may work, said Jens Ludwig, Director of the Crime Lab, and the McCormick Foundation Professor of Social Service Administration, Law and Public Policy at the University.

"Claims of dramatic success are not in short supply, and yet the youth gun violence problem remains," he said. "The lesson is that progress in addressing gun violence in Chicago, or anywhere, is extremely difficult without guidance about what programs work, for whom, why and how they can be improved."

Ludwig and his colleagues released a report Tuesday, March 3, entitled "Gun Violence Among School-Aged Youth in Chicago," which details the scope of the problem. Among its findings:

  • Alcohol, mental health issues and school failure are contributing causes to the persistence of gun violence among the city's youth and provide potential targets for new programmatic interventions.
  • The underground market seems to work far less efficiently for guns than for drugs-in part because guns, unlike drugs, are durable goods. These patterns suggest opportunities for enforcement efforts that disrupt the illicit gun market.
  • The most vulnerable age for youth to become involved with gangs and violence is early adolescence, when arrests and school dropouts increase.
  • Drawing on results from a national study of the costs of gun violence, the researchers determined that the cost of gun violence here in the city of Chicago was $2.5 billion, or about $2,500 per household. Additionally, for each murder, 70 people are either discouraged from moving to Chicago or prompted to move out of the city.


Ludwig is a nationally prominent scholar in the areas of gun policy, youth violence and social policy. Joining him on the project is co-director Harold Pollack, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration at the University and a prominent public health researcher, and experts on crime and youth violence throughout the University of Chicago.

A grant from the Joyce Foundation supports the initial work of the Crime Lab. The project also received funding from the School of Social Service Administration and the University of Chicago's Provost. The City of Chicago encouraged the establishment of the Crime Lab. The Crime Lab also has worked intensely with community organizations.

The work of the Crime Lab is just one example of the University's significant contribution to addressing the challenges facing urban America. It also reflects a commitment from the University, which has launched a number of programs to improve health, education and employment opportunities for neighborhoods on the South Side.