Study Suggests Social Networks Predict Victims of Gun Homicide

Nov 19, 2013

In the highest-crime area of Chicago, six percent of the population was involved in 70 percent of the murders, according to the Yale University study.
Credit supafly / Creative Commons

A new Yale University study suggests that social interactions are a key predictor of who becomes a victim of gun violence. According to the study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, who you hang out with may be more important than other factors like race and socioeconomic status.

The study focused on Chicago's gun homicide records from 2006 to 2011. The research showed that six percent of the population was involved in 70 percent of the murders. Researchers said that six percent are unwittingly part of a network. "They call this the 'cousin rule,'" said Andrew Papachristos, an associate sociology professor at Yale, and lead author of the study. "Ray and I are standing on a street corner, and you have to go downtown, and I say, 'Don't worry, my cousin will take you.' Then my cousin stops off at a party, and a gun goes off. It's tragic, but it's not random. You got there through a series of connections, and this type of approach helps you see those connections."

The study said every one of those six percent have a criminal record, and are, shockingly, 900 percent more likely to die from a gun than the rest of the population. "Even within these high-crime communities," Papachristo said, "you're talking about a small number of identifiable individuals who are at the most risk. It helps us explain a little bit better who gets shot and who doesn't."

The Chicago police department took Papachristos's data, and contacted the top 20 people most likely to use or die from a gun. The police informed them of the data, and warned them to stay out of trouble.

Other cities are interested in this social network approach to gun homicides, including New Haven, whose Project Longevity aims to curb gun violence by identifying and reaching out to groups of people most likely to engage in gun violence.