Nightly News   |  February 10, 2013

Flashpoint: Gun violence in New Orleans

Murders in New Orleans are down by half this month after a new approach aimed at educating and mentoring youth.  NBC's Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> large. new orleans has for years suffered an epidemic of gun violence , earning it the distinction of being the nation's murder capital. it, however, is not taking it lying down. tonight nbc news kicks off a special week-long look at gun violence and gun ownership called "flashpoint guns" and we begin in new orleans with how they are trying to unravel a culture of violence.

>> install the unit to franklin. looks like a maroon vehicle.

>> a cool damp night is a good night for new orleans police commander christopher goodley. it keeps things quiet. a welcome breather for a city racked by a chronically high murder rate .

>> we have a homicide rate that is unnatural.

>> new orleans saw 193 murders last year. its per capita rate of homicides nearly three times that of chicago. most of the victims, young african-american men shot to death. single mother of three and community outreach coordinator katherine hutton speaks for many in this community.

>> like lord, what is it going to take? when are they going stop it?

>> the national focus on gun violence is applauded here, but the majority of the killing in new orleans is by handguns. is this gun conversation going on in washington too narrow?

>> yes. the answer is yes. it is absolutely too narrow. and it's too simplistic. as though if you just ban assault weapons, somehow the murder rate in the country is going to go down automatically. it will not.

>> mayor landrieu wants more than tougher gun laws . he wants the feds to help him put more cops on his streets. in the meantime, new orleans has gone after gun violence with a velvet hammer , identifying the specific individuals and groups that seem to feed violent crime and delivering a face-to-face message.

>> we know you. we know where you are, and what you're doing is unacceptable. and now we're going to have a response to you that's robust and where consequences really matter.

>> the consequences, if a murder occurred, the weight of law enforcement and the courts would swing down on not just the perpetrators, but an entire group. the concept developed by criminologist david kennedy also offers a way out of crime.

>> we know who you are. we know what you're doing. we care about you. we want to help you. but we're not going to put up with this anymore.

>> they call the approach nola for life, offering education programs aimed at giving offenders a chance to change.

>> our message in group violence is this -- you're important, too. even if you're out here hurting people, you're still important.

>> new orleans is also extending a safety net to those deemed at risk, including katherine hutton's oldest son, who meets with a mentor through the youth empowerment project.

>> to have a model set the tone for how things are supposed to be done in their lives is like okay, you know, this is what it's supposed to be.

>> so far, murders in new orleans are down by half this month. a good sign, but not victory.

>> one homicide is one too many, but hopefully, we're in the right direction with reducing this rate.

>> our special weeklong series

"flashpoint: guns in america" includes an interactive interactive snapshot on nbcnews.com of all the gun deaths across the country over a three-day period last month, where and how they took place.