Having plenty of law enforcement personnel is just part of the battle; the other part is using them effectively. What appears to have worked in New York -- and, later, in Chicago -- is swarming crime "hot spots" with cops for days or weeks, forcing criminals to mind their manners. This approach "almost certainly made a substantial contribution in New York," writes criminologist Franklin Zimring, author of "The City That Became Safe."
It was once thought that when cops moved into an area, crooks would merely move to another one. It turns out that migration is not always an attractive option. So a crime prevented today may be a crime that is never committed.
Chicago also had some luck with a joint federal-city operation, called Project Safe Neighborhoods. It zeroed in on ex-convicts, with the goal of dissuading them from carrying guns, using a carrot-and-stick approach. The stick was federal prosecution carrying long sentences with no parole in faraway prisons; the carrot was meetings where offenders were offered help getting shelter, job training and education.
In areas where PSN was implemented, homicide rates plunged. In the rest of the city, they barely budged. Ex-offenders who were required to take part in round-table meetings with police, community representatives and service providers were nearly 30 percent less likely than others to end up back in prison.
Another method of catching thugs with guns, says Ludwig, is to offer significant cash rewards to tipsters -- $500 or $1,000. This approach would not only produce more arrests of felons and teens but also strongly discourage them from illegally carrying weapons. An action that today may generate respect or fear -- displaying a handgun to friends or rivals -- would suddenly carry a serious risk of prison time.
If we hope to reduce gun crime, the answer doesn't lie in broad laws that mostly affect people who pose no threat. It lies in targeting the criminals. Most gun control measures involve rearranging the haystack. What these initiatives do is locate the needles.