The rise in gun homicides in the United States is having reverberating political ramifications at the federal, state, and local levels, with many elected officials falling back into “tough on crime” policies to curb the violence. This punitive turn can be seen in President Joe Biden’s proposed federal budget, in which he calls for “more police officers on the beat” and allocates an additional $30 billion for state and local governments to support law enforcement. Many local leaders are mirroring this approach, centering their gun violence prevention strategies on increasing funding for police and rolling back criminal justice reforms.
What these enforcement-based approaches fail to recognize is that the recent rise in homicides is more nuanced than it appears. Rather than a widespread dispersal of gun violence within cities, the increases in gun homicides are largely concentrated in disinvested and structurally disadvantaged neighborhoods that had high rates of gun violence to begin with. This geographic concentration is a persistent challenge, not a new one—and it requires targeted solutions to improve outcomes in disinvested places rather than reverting to the old “tough on crime” playbook.