As Crime Spikes, Some Cities Turn To Gun "Buyback" Efforts

As Crime Spikes, Some Cities Turn To Gun "Buyback" Efforts

What do you do if you’re a Democrat mayor or city council member in a city with a soaring crime rate? You can’t vocally support stronger law enforcement without coming under fire from your fellow Democrats, but you have to do something or else risk being accused of not caring about the lives of those living in high-crime neighborhoods. Nobody said that “something” has to be effective, though, which is why several Democrats are turning to the old idea of holding “gun buybacks,” even though research has proven that the programs are completely ineffective at addressing violent crime.

Mayor Sheldon Neeley recently declared that Flint, Michigan will be holding a buyback in the near future, and announced this week that the city will also no longer auction off firearms that are seized by police, though the city will lose several hundred thousand dollars in revenue as a result.

“Under this administration, we will never again line our pockets by selling guns,” Neeley said in a statement issued by the city. “It is unconscionable that after seizing these illegal weapons that anyone would gamble by putting them back on the streets where they could again fall into the wrong hands.”

Wednesday’s announcement by Neeley and Police Chief Phil Hart comes as Flint officials are facing what they have called “the intersection of a crisis” with violent crime and homicides tracking above the same period last year.

As of July 12, Flint’s homicides were up 12.5 percent and violent crime had increased 17 percent compared to the same time in 2019. Flint police statistics show property crime had decreased 21 percent and overall crime was down about 5 percent during that same time.

How many guns auctioned off by Flint officials have turned up at any of this year’s crime scenes? Mayor Neeley hasn’t said, which leads me to believe that they’re not being used (again) in the commission of any violent crimes. This is simply an effort to blame crime on guns, rather than the individuals pulling the trigger.

New York City’s also looking at holding several “buyback” events in the coming weeks, including one on Staten Island, where District Attorney Michael McMann says the compensated confiscation effort is just one piece of the city’s response to the surge in shootings and homicides.

The group “Mothers Against Senseless Killing” (MASK) was out last weekend in some North Shore communities, engaging residents and dispensing food and supplies, he said.

They will head out again this weekend.

Another group, “Occupy the Block,” will be out in Stapleton and Mariners Harbor this Friday to take a stand against the violence, said the D.A.

Law enforcement members are identifying hotspots for violence to evaluate the resources and infrastructure there, such as streetlights and cameras.

In addition, McMahon said a gun buyback event is anticipated for late August or sometime in September. A buyback scheduled for May was canceled due to the coronavirus, he said.

While these “buyback” programs allow politicians to claim they’re doing something to reduce violent crime, research shows that these efforts are a waste of both time and money.

By the late 1990s, municipalities in the U.S. had conducted more than 100 buyback programs. Seattle’s gun buyback program in fall 1992 was among the first to be evaluated via peer-reviewed research. Gun owners turned over 1,172 firearms, almost all of which were working handguns, according to a 1994 evaluation published in Public Health Reports. Participants received a bank voucher worth $50, no matter how many firearms they turned over to the Seattle Police Department. About three-fourths of participants were men. The evaluation didn’t find statistical evidence that the program had an effect on gun violence.

“Gun buyback programs are a broadly supported means to decrease voluntarily the prevalence of handguns within a community, but their effect on decreasing violent crime and reducing firearm mortality is unknown,” the authors write.

Gun buybacks are all about public relations, not public safety. Instead of “doing something,” officials like the mayor of Flint and Bill de Blasio in New York City need to do something that works; focus on violent offenders and ensure that there are swift and certain consequences for their criminal acts. That will do far more than paying $100 for a broken-down revolver that will never be used in a crime in the first place.