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Gun buybacks take guns out of circulation, but experts say there’s no evidence the programs reduce violence

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called it a “bold new initiative” and said she would take “weapons out of the hands of dangerous people”. Chicago and other cities have run these programs for decades, often redeeming gift cards of around $100 for guns and a lesser amount for replica guns.
Chicago officials collect hundreds of firearms each year through buy-back programs. But decades of research show that such programs don’t reduce gun violence, largely because they don’t result in guns being taken away from people who aren’t supposed to have them. A recent study found “no evidence that (gun buy-back programs) reduce suicides or homicides involving a firearm.”
“It’s good theater. But it doesn’t help deal with gangs, drug dealers and everyone else who uses guns,” said Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and current professor at the John Jay College.

“These things are dog and pony shows…Look, a million dollars to do all of this isn’t going to help the violence in Chicago or anywhere else one iota. It’s okay, it’s for doing it look like politicians are going to do something, but that means absolutely nothing.”

“An additive benefit should not be ignored”

Chicago records more murders each year than any other city in America (although New York and Los Angeles have far more residents), and recorded more than 800 homicides in 2021 for the first time in 25 years, and its service Police also takes more firearms through law enforcement than any other city. Violent crime will likely play a role in the next mayoral election – already one challenger has cited public safety as the most important issue.
Announcing the program, the Chicago Mayor’s Office said it will “give residents the tools to build a safer city for all of us” by “getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

And when the goal is community engagement or awareness — when the goal is not reducing violent crime — programs can have some benefits. In particular, removing weapons from homes where the owner does not want them and encouraging people to remove them from circulation.

“Gun surrender is really a way for people to have a strong connection to the city. They know (the gun is) deadly, they know they’re contributing, it’s showing their love for their city,” said Glen Brooks, director of the Chicago Police Department’s Community Policing Bureau. “It really is. The people who choose to do that, that’s what it is. They don’t want to … be that person who unwittingly contributes (to violence).”
A study last year examined the National Incident Reporting System and the National Vital Statistics System in an effort to find evidence of the effectiveness of gun buy-back programs. The study found “no evidence” that the programs reduce suicides or firearm homicides. The “findings suggest that (gun buy-back programs) have been an inefficient use of taxpayers’ money”, and it is possible that “alternative gun-related policies, such as safe storage laws or stricter background checks, are more effective in deterring gun violence”. .”
One of the study’s authors, D. Mark Anderson, said a central question was whether these programs had an effect on gun violence.

“Could there be some type of program that we could think of? Maybe,” he told CNN. “But as implemented in the United States? I don’t think they mattered.”

One of the benefits of the programs, Brooks said, was giving residents a safe way to dispose of “one of the most durable products around.” Firearms last longer than almost all consumer goods, he said.

“It has an added benefit that shouldn’t be ignored or looked down upon because academic research indicates it won’t reduce crime by ‘x’ percentage points,” Brooks said. “But we know for a fact that guns are used in suicides, homicides and of course shootings. Those things, getting that gun out of a place where it’s unwanted and unused, giving people a responsible method to get rid of it, have an advantage.”


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