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Handgun Intervention

The Handgun Intervention Program

"It's an effort to save lives." - Terrence Evelyn

The Handgun Intervention Program (H.I.P.) was established by the Honorable Willie G. Lipscomb, Jr., in July of 1993. This innovative program strives to educate citizens about the senseless violence that all too often results from the possession of handguns. Coordinated by Probation Supervisor Terrence K. Evelyn and managed by Denise Hall of the Civil Division, the H.I.P. volunteers are fiercely dedicated to ending the handgun violence so deeply entrenched in both our local community and across the country.

"In 1992 37,502 Americans were killed with firearms in homicides, suicides, and accidents... That's 103 American women, men, and children every day." - National Center for Health Statistics

The 36th District Court's approach to this widespread problem is unique in that it is the first program in the nation in which the court orders defendants to attend a class as a condition of their bond. This new approach has proven effective and has received national attention. Indeed, the program has been duplicated in courts in New York, Oregon, Florida, and Minnesota; it is now being implemented in schools as well. The H.I.P. also caught the interest of Dr. Jeffrey Roth, Director of the Urban Institute in Washington D.C. and author of influential article, "Firearms and Violence". Dr. Roth was awarded a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Justice Department to study the program. His findings, published in May of 1997, concluded that after attending one 3-hour H.I.P. class, the participants' attitudes regarding handguns did in fact change favorably.

"Every day, fifteen children ages 19 and under are killed with handguns". - National Center for Health Statistics

In January of 1993, a bright, college-bound teenager who was like a son to Judge Lipscomb was shot and killed.  No longer able to watch gun-toting youths pass through his courtroom without a lesson, the judge channeled his grief into action and launched this novel technique to help make the streets of Detroit safer. The H.I.P. focuses on the pervasive problem of youth homicide, the vast majority of which result from the illegal handguns carried by children and young adults. The current beneficiaries of the program are first- or second-time offenders ages 12-28, predominantly African American males, who have been charged with carrying illegal and/or concealed weapons. The program is divided into three main segments:

- First, graphic slides of murdered gunshot victims are shown, along with explanations of the types of wounds and the circumstances that caused the homicides. There is an emphasis on portraying the victims as real individuals with grieving families and friends. This presentation aims not to shock the defendants but to appeal to their sense of humanity.
- Next, there is a discussion of various historical figures, including civil rights leaders, and the numerous scarifies these people made so that the defendants could lead better lives. The message that the participants do in fact have a choice to turn their lives around, to improve the socioeconomic conditions of their communities, and to sacrifice for future generations, is underscored. For those willing to accept the challenge, educational and vocational opportunities are made available.
- The final segment consists of volunteer guest speakers who share their tragic experiences of losing family members to handgun violence. These speakers are carefully chosen to include lawyers, factory workers, doctors, and ministers of both sexes and a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds. This is the most interactive part of the H.I.P. session, and it is here that Judge Lipscomb addresses and answers questions from the participants. An informational packet is handed out; the discussion focuses on conflict-resolution strategies, how to avoid or neutralize tense situations, etc. Lastly, the participants take a vow of nonviolence.

"Firearm homicide is the number-one cause of death for black males between the ages of 15-24, and it is the second leading cause of death for all 15-24 year olds."       - National Center for Health Statistics

As the participants continually point out, the problem of illegal handgun possession and its attendant is both vast and deep-a fact that Judge Lipscomb acknowledges. "It's not going to happen overnight", the Judge told the Associated Press in an interview after the program began.  But he firmly believes the H.I.P. is making a difference. "These are just young boys and they want somebody to talk with them. They are not bad. There are just bad influences around them." The increasing success of the program since its inception bears out Judge Lipscomb's words. The study by the Urban Institute consistently demonstrated that after one session the defendants' attitude shifted significantly on a number of issues related to handgun violence. These issues included situational avoidance.  For example, if a defendant needs a gun to fit in with friends, he/she needs new friends.  They also included ethical considerations, such as deciding that an insult is not a sufficient reason to shoot.  An analysis of participants' views on the risks vs. benefits of guns revealed that post-H.I.P. respondents - considerably more than pre-H.I.P. respondents - agreed that a gun does not necessarily put one in control, that a situation sometimes worsens due to guns, and that carrying a gun is not worth being arrested.  A distinct change was noted in terms of individual responsibility as well.  Far more post- than pre-H.I.P. respondents agreed that it is important to set a good example for children, that they might ask friends to leave guns at home, that they would try to get educated and find good jobs, and that they could reduce violence by getting involved in the community.

"Though self-defense is the most often-cited reason for having a gun, a gun kept for self-protection is forty-three times more likely to kill a family member or friend than an unknown attacker."  - New England Journal of Medicine

In addition to the encouraging results of the Urban Institute study, there has been consistent positive feedback and ever-increasing participation from Detroit-area police departments and from defendants who have attended the classes.  In keeping with its goal of preventing handgun violence by changing the defendants' behavior before violence occurs, the program has expanded to include juveniles sent by the Juvenile Court.  The H.I.P. was selected for a 1996 national teleconference produced by the U.S. Justice Department.  The program is also cited in the Justice Department's report entitled 'Reducing Youth Gun Violence', which is distributed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Prevention as a resource for organizations committed to reducing this pervasive problem.

The Handgun Intervention Program can easily be duplicated with cooperation from the court system and dedicated, compassionate individuals determined to eradicate the omnipresent handgun violence plaguing our country.

"It's a way to reach our children, before it's too late." - Denise Hall

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