Gun buybacks have been held in the United States since the early 1990s based on the premise that taking firearms off the street will help make communities safer, but academic research into the subject has found no evidence that these events actually contribute to a reduction in crime, the Buffalo News reported in late September.
Scott W. Phillips, an associate professor of criminal justice at SUNY Buffalo State, has studied gun buybacks and their impact on violent crime. Phillips and colleagues at the college used crime data in Buffalo to assess the impact of five gun buybacks between 2007 and 2012. Research here and in cities across the country has demonstrated that gun buyback programs don’t reduce crime, he said.
“Does it work? No,” Phillips said. “Should they keep doing it? I wouldn’t bother wasting their time.”
The New York State attorney general’s office did not contest the lack of evidence in academic research that buybacks have an effect on crime, but a spokesman characterized the buybacks as one of a number of efforts by the AG aimed at reducing gun crimes. Those efforts include curbing the illegal sales of firearms on Facebook and Instagram and ensuring that background checks are done on nearly every gun sold at gun shows.
Professor Phillips said the types of firearms turned over at buybacks are generally not the kinds used in crimes. They’re also generally older weapons and sometimes they’re not even functional.
There’s also no academic research that shows a reduction in suicides or accidental shootings due to gun buybacks, he said.
Gun buybacks are often held because they’re relatively easy to do and the public expects – or even demands – them, Phillips said. Elected officials often conduct them for purposes of good public relations, he said.
Guns turned over at buybacks are destroyed and not processed as evidence, authorities say.
“They make for good photo images,” said Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, based at the University of Wisconsin’s law school, in a 2013 USA Today report. “But gun buyback programs recover such a small percentage of guns that it’s not likely to make much impact.”
The relatively small number of guns recovered isn’t the only problem, Scott said. Buyback programs tend to attract people who are least likely to commit crimes and to retrieve guns that are least likely to be used in crimes.
Scott and others say violent criminals—the people who do most of the shooting and killing —steer clear of buyback programs unless they’re trying to make some quick cash by selling a weapon they don’t want anymore.
That means buyback campaigns more often end up with hunting rifles or old revolvers from someone’s attic than with automatic weapons from the trunk of a criminal’s car.