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Giffords Law Center’s New Report Explores Gun Diversion Programs to Improve Public Safety

“A Second Chance: The Case for Gun Diversion Programs” uplifts diversion as a way to combat mass incarceration while improving both public safety and outcomes for individuals convicted of nonviolent offenses

Washington, DC — Today, Giffords Law Center published a new report taking a look at diversion programs for nonviolent firearm possession cases. The report highlights how this promising alternative to traditional incarceration can actually help reduce recidivism and enhance public safety. 

The United States accounts for four percent of the world’s population but a quarter of its prisoners—even as data shows that more incarceration does not reduce crime or make communities safer. Black and Brown Americans are disproportionately targeted and often incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, including illegal gun possession. “A Second Chance: The Case for Gun Diversion Programs” offers insights and recommendations into reforming our country’s approach to nonviolent gun possession based on the early success experienced by programs such as the Pathways to New Beginnings gun diversion program in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

Mike McMcLively, Community Violence Initiative Policy Director:

“For too long, our country has been much too quick to send Black and Brown young men into the revolving door of incarceration and the criminal legal system for nonviolent offenses like illegal gun possession. Years of data shows that this doesn’t reduce gun violence or make our communities safer—and it comes with devastating collateral consequences for individuals. It’s time to chart a new course forward.
“Pathways to New Beginnings in Minneapolis shows us what’s possible when we invest in young men who have experienced trauma by giving them a second chance rather than a jail sentence. As our report shows, there is another way—a better way—to handle illegal firearm possession cases than writing off these individuals as criminals. Diversion programs can reduce recidivism, improve public safety, and help tackle our bloated prison system. We must continue to explore and implement these programs based on the findings and promising practices highlighted in this report.” 


Only a handful of diversion programs exist to specifically address situations where individuals are charged with nonviolent gun possession. The following recommendations are intended to educate and encourage stakeholders to consider diversion programs as an alternative approach.

Prosecutors: Implement Diversion Programs for Individuals with Nonviolent Firearm-Related Charges 

  • Make the Case for Diversion with Data
  • Implement Gun Diversion Programs Using Promising Practices
  • Explore New Funding Sources to Launch or Expand Diversion Programs

State Legislators: Support Diversion Programs and Reform Draconian Gun Possession Sentencing Policies 

  • Fund Diversion Programs
  • Reexamine Criminal Penalties for Nonviolent Illegal Gun Possession
  • Incentivize Local Law Enforcement to Solve Violent Crime

The United States lost 45,000 Americans to gun violence in 2020, a staggering increase of nearly 15% over the previous year. There are many proven ways to reduce the toll of gun violence, but data shows that locking up as many nonviolent offenders as possible for firearms-related charges is not one of them. 

To truly improve public safety, we must invest in under-resourced communities and create as many alternatives to incarceration as possible for appropriate cases. States should prioritize supporting cities in efforts to improve homicide and nonfatal shooting solve rates. Given the small percentage of individuals who commit acts of violence in any given city, this strategy would reduce the overall incarceration footprint while significantly improving both public safety and public trust in the legitimacy and efficacy of law enforcement.

For additional information or to arrange a time to speak with Mike McLively, Brittany Nieto, Paul Carrillo or another gun violence prevention expert, contact Siham Zniber at


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