Journal of Quantitative Criminology

, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 999–1017 | Cite as

Is Gun Violence Contagious? A Spatiotemporal Test

  • Charles LoefflerEmail author
  • Seth Flaxman
Original Paper



Existing theories of gun violence predict stable spatial concentrations and contagious diffusion of gun violence into surrounding areas. Recent empirical studies have reported confirmatory evidence of such spatiotemporal diffusion of gun violence. However, existing space/time interaction tests cannot readily distinguish spatiotemporal clustering from spatiotemporal diffusion. This leaves as an open question whether gun violence actually is contagious or merely clusters in space and time. Compounding this problem, gun violence is subject to considerable measurement error with many nonfatal shootings going unreported to police.


Using point process data from an acoustical gunshot locator system and a combination of Bayesian spatiotemporal point process modeling and classical space/time interaction tests, this paper distinguishes between clustered but non-diffusing gun violence and clustered gun violence resulting from diffusion.


This paper demonstrates that contemporary urban gun violence in a metropolitan city does diffuse in space and time, but only slightly.


These results suggest that a disease model for the spread of gun violence in space and time may not be a good fit for most of the geographically stable and temporally stochastic process observed. And that existing space/time tests may not be adequate tests for spatiotemporal gun violence diffusion models.


Gun violence Contagion Spatiotemporal methods 



SRF was supported by ERC (FP7/617071) and EPSRC (EP/K009362/1). The authors thank Richerd Berk, Shawn Bushway, John MacDonald, Theresa Smith, George Tita, and three anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of CriminologyUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.Department of StatisticsUniversity of OxfordOxfordUnited Kingdom

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