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Legal Review: Maryland Attempts to Reduce Gun Violence Through Programs in At-Risk Neighborhoods

By Maryland criminal defense lawyer Kush Arora with Price Benowitz, LLP.

Maryland, like many other states throughout the union, is constantly trying to find new ways to address gun violence.

As legislators grapple with the political ramifications of gun control measures, attempts are being made at using alternative dispute resolution methods and other street-level approaches in at-risk neighborhoods as a way to reduce gun violence instead of waiting on consensus related to gun control.

“Programs like these are designed to try and stop disagreements from becoming gun battles,” said Kush Arora, a Baltimore Gun Crimes Defense Attorney with the law firm Price Benowitz, LLP.

These programs are not without precedent or a history of success. Prior to this most recent legislation, the City of Baltimore had implemented the “Cure Violence” public health strategy, which was developed by a doctor with the University of Illinois, Chicago that attempts to understand and treat violence in neighborhoods with the same approach as an infectious disease epidemic by using the following components:

  • Detect and interrupt potentially violent conflicts. Caseworkers are trained to identify situations that can lead to deadly conflicts by, among other things, speaking with members of the community to understand ongoing disputes, working with those involved in disputes to keep the issues under control, and when shootings do occur, immediately acting to try and stop any retaliation.
  • Identify and treat highest risk individuals. Caseworkers in the community work to build relationships with those who are most likely to be at high risk of gun violence and help educate those individuals regarding those risks.
  • Mobilize the community to change norms. Caseworkers act to organize the community against gun violence, the goal being to make the use of gun violence in dispute resolution unacceptable at the community level which should deter future actors.

In carrying out these components, the city employs the use of case workers that are in the streets identifying at-risk groups and individuals and providing counseling and mediation services to head off gun violence.

The program was utilized in four of Baltimore’s most violent communities, and the result was a coinciding decrease in shootings and homicides of anywhere from 34 percent up to 56 percent.

Seeing these results, state legislators moved forward with creating a pool of money from which to issue grants for programs like the one in Baltimore, statewide.

The $5 million in funds represents only a small fraction of the $294 million spent by the public on gun violence consequences each year in Maryland; however, if the impact seen in Baltimore can be replicated state-wide it should provide support for increases in funding.

The program has its opponents — mostly gun-rights supporters — but otherwise has strong support statewide. If caseworkers can continue to use alternative dispute resolution and mediation to decrease gun violence and save even one life, the program can be called a success.

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