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Officials target gun violence in Connecticut

By Ebong Udoma and David Ingram

NEW HAVEN, Conn/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is taking a cautious step toward confronting the politically tricky subject of gun violence with an initiative unveiled on Tuesday that focuses on prevention.

It was not the gun control launch that some of Barack Obama's supporters hoped for after the president won a second four-year term in a November 6 election.

Instead, U.S. Justice Department and Connecticut officials announced a statewide program that targets repeat criminals, creates alternatives for potential gang members and rallies neighborhoods against violence.

The initiative, known as Project Longevity, will send new federal grant money to Connecticut and involve agents, academics and social workers working for or with the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Today's announcement underscores our commitment to working together across levels of government and jurisdictional boundaries to protect the American people from the crime that threatens too many neighborhoods and claims too many lives," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference in New Haven, Connecticut.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, a Democrat, in June adopted a strategy known as "focused deterrence" that targets a small number of suspects who are under the supervision of probation officers or otherwise well known to law enforcement.

The model, which emphasizes education and other services for those suspects, as well as community meetings, has been credited with reducing violence in Boston and elsewhere.

Connecticut will be the first statewide test of the model, officials said.

On Monday, officials met members of two gangs in New Haven for a "call-in" - a face-to-face session designed to divert gang members from crime to school or work.

About 25 people heard about Project Longevity from the senior leadership of the New Haven police, federal and state prosecutors, social workers and others, said David Fein, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut.

"No strategy will be effective without the support of the community," Malloy, the governor, said at the news conference. "This means parents, clergy, neighborhood leaders, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, everyone working to one goal - working to regain the trust of African American and Latino communities."

Federal help for the effort is welcome even if Obama is not making a push to change laws that make guns easily available in much of the country, said Ron Pinciaro, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence.

"The community needs to show a little more outrage on these things and demand that it be a top priority," Pinciaro said. "That will be more useful than another law right now."

Obama has repeatedly called for changes to federal gun laws, including a renewed ban on guns that critics call assault weapons. An earlier ban expired in 2004, and Obama reiterated his support for a new one in an October debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

But with other priorities, and facing strong opposition from pro-gun lobbyists, Obama has so far put off legislation.

(Editing by Howard Goller and Eric Beech)

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