No single cause explains why overall serious crime fell 3 percent nationwide last year. But Boston officials say their focus on firearms is a key reason that last year the city recorded a 30-year-low in murders (58 killings) and an overall 14 percent drop in violent crime.
A more impressive stat: Guns have not killed a single person younger than 17 in Boston since July 1995.
Boston is doing the job by using a federal computer registry to track illegal sales and crafting joint task forces of local, state and federal agencies to get guns off the streets.
While Boston's decline may be the most dramatic, nationwide, gun murders declined 11 percent between 1994 and 1995. How come, then, in Philadelphia, gun murders rose 16 percent during the same period? In 1996, 8 out of 10 homicide victims in Philadelphia died from bullets.
Boston also is building strong partnerships with community groups, churches and other groups. Two years ago youth workers began communicating with street gangs; the state's probation and parole officers targeted youthful nonviolent offenders, and churches held vigils and workshops to reach troubled kids before they picked up a weapon.
In Boston, all agencies and groups concerned with reducing violence acted with a common goal, a shared strategy, fueled by a sense of urgency. In Philadelphia, efforts are more hit-and-miss, hampered by state undercutting of city gun control efforts.
For example: Three years of gun buyback drives have yielded modest results. Two years ago, a combined police-federal task force swooped down on about 50 unlicensed gun dealers. And last month probation officers began riding with police to help identify young criminals.
That's fine, but not enough. And what's missing is the strong sense of official outrage that helps drive the Boston crime prevention effort.
Officials here also stress more officers are needed. They have a point, and there is some hopeful news on the resources front: By mid-1999, the force is supposed to reach 6,984, up from a low of 6,146 officers in 1993.
But no one can justify waiting to get going on an antigun crusade on the Boston model. Not when a teenager like Elizabeth ``Lisa'' Carrasquillo can't get some ice cream without dying in a hail of bullets.