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Risk of being shot tied to who victims know, study finds

In the most violent neighborhoods, your risk of being shot often depends on who your friends and family are, according to a new study on gun violence.

The study, which focused on Chicago, found that more than 70% of all nonfatal gunshot injuries over a six-year period occurred within a network of less than 6% of the city’s population. Almost all of the victims — 89% — were in a single social network of nearly 108,000 people.

Basically, the more shooting victims someone knows, the greater his or her risk of becoming a victim.

The genesis of the study was a question that a street intervention worker on Chicago’s West Side asked Andrew Papachristos: Who is shooting whom?

Papachristos, an associate professor of sociology at Yale University, started looking at the structure of violence. He's looked at Chicago’s deadliest neighborhood and the structure behind gang killings in separate studies.

In the most recent study, published this month, Papachristos looked at the concentration of nonfatal gunshot injuries within risky social networks --  people who have been arrested and those who know them.

 "The lion’s share of the shootings were not random," he told The Times.

Papachristos argues in an opinion piece in the Washington Post that the way gun violence is transmitted has “striking similarities” to public health epidemics like HIV or the spread of cholera in Haiti.

He says the idea is simple: treat homicide like a disease. People catch the disease if they engage in risky behaviors with someone who is infected.

Papachristos said this approach could help focus services such as mental health, education or law enforcement to the populations that are most likely to be affected.

“Oftentimes the people within one or two handshakes have an elevated risk of also being a victim,” he said.

Now that homicide rates in large U.S. cities are at historic lows, Papachristos said it’s time to focus on the neighborhoods that have remained violent — and the trauma the people who live there endure.

"We don’t know about peoples’ resilience."

Read Papachristos’ article in the Washington Post: Social networks can help predict gun violence

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: Los Angeles Police Department investigators at the scene of a gang-related shooting in Hollywood in 2010. Five people were wounded in two incidents Nov. 1, 2010. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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