Can Curfews Curb Gun Violence?

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Photo by Monique Nascimento via Flickr

East St. Louis has been ravaged by gun violence. Shootings last weekend that left seven injured, including an incident where 3-year-old Calyia Stringer was struck in the head by a stray bullet that came through the wall of an apartment, have spurred city authorities to order a curfew.

East St. Louis Mayor Robert Eastern III announced Friday afternoon that a new citywide curfew will be in effect from midnight until 6 a.m. — for the foreseeable future, according to Belleville News-Democrat and Fox 2 Now. 

Eastern also detailed that monitoring plans will be put in place in tandem with the curfew, like adding more lighting, cameras, and police presence throughout the city.

Although city officials like Eastern have been leaning towards curfews as a means of combating gun violence, some research suggests that curfews actually increase gun violence in neighborhoods.

A Purdue University and University of Virginia 2015 study  concluded that “curfew laws are not a cost-effective way to reduce gun violence.”

Nevertheless, municipal authorities argue that they have few good alternatives.

“The solution to the violence that continues to plague the East St. Louis community and our region requires us to listen to one another, to come together to fight for resources and address these problems,” Mayor Eastern told a press conference, as quoted by Fox 2 Now.

While announcing the curfew, the mayor said that there was still hope, noting that violent crime has been down 53 percent and homicide rates dropped 67 percent within the community.

Eastern called on young people to “think twice” before using a weapon in East St. Louis, noting that the community and law enforcement have a zero-tolerance policy against violent crimes. 

“I’m praying and I’m pleading to our young people to stop the gun violence,” Eastern said, as quoted by the Belleville News-Democrat. “Making these unnecessary decisions that are injuring people and impacting lives and communities.”

Officials in Louisville Ky., said they are considering a similar method of combating gun violence, announcing in late August that council members are considering an ordinance that would force city’s bars and restaurants to abide by a no-alcohol curfew amid record-breaking levels of gun violence, WFPL details. 

Business owners have told Council members that they’re seeing the most violence after 2 a.m., so the city is considering pulling back the alcohol service hours from 4 a.m. to 2 a.m., temporarily enacting a bar curfew. 

“I’m a big believer that experiments are important, that trying new things are important, and that whenever you see a problem it doesn’t hurt to try something different, if your current methods aren’t working,” Cassie Chambers Armstrong (D-8) told WFPL.

“I think that’s what we’ve seen with gun violence in this city … and so I’m proposing to try this for six months, three months, some period of time to see if it makes a difference.”

While city officials publicly discuss enacting curfews to combat gun violence, experts generally disagree on what extent the curfews help or hinder communities. 

‘Keep the Kids Inside?’

The Purdue-University of Virginia study  sought to understand the impact of government curfews enacted in Washington D.C. in 1995 to curb gun violence and late-night gang activity.

The economist researchers Jillian Carr and Jennifer Doleac know that the concept behind a curfew is simple: fewer people on the streets should mean that there are fewer chances of violence taking place. 

They sought to test the theory, combing through data hour-by-hour of when a curfew was put into place, and comparing it to incidents occurring outside of the curfew time frame.

Using data on gunfire generated by ShotSpotter audio sensors, and comparing firearm incidents to a pre-curfew time frame, the researchers found that the curfew policy increased gunfire incidents by 150 percent during the curfew hours. 

In contrast, for the same timeframe, the researchers found that law enforcement voluntarily-reported crime measures, like 9-1-1 calls, narrate a different story, suggesting that curfews decrease gun violence. 

To understand why this was happening, Carr and Doleac theorize that by enacting the curfew, law-abiding citizens were more likely to desert the streets, especially when there was no consequence for staying out past the curfew.

This essentially removed bystanders and witnesses from the streets, reducing a deterrent for someone to commit a violent act, they argued.

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Andrea Cipriano.

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