No, Philly's Gun "Buybacks" Aren't Working

(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Philadelphia’s 300th homicide of the year was recorded on Friday night, as the city’s crime wave shows no signs of abating. Homicides are up 42% compared to last year, which saw a near-record 499 homicides across the city. Shootings are up as well, with more than 1,200 reported in Philadelphia since January 1st.

Given the fact that violent crime is spiraling upward, it seems bizarre to claim that several gun “buybacks” hosted by the city are doing any good, but that’s exactly the take from local NPR affiliate WHYY, which claims that the gun turn-in events are working.

Two more gun buybacks in Philadelphia are hoping to add to the over 500 guns already removed from the city streets.

“The no-questions-asked event will take in working firearms,” says City Council President Darrell Clarke.”We’ve gotten a number of assault weapons. We got an Uzi, believe it or not, that was turned [in]. We got an AK-47 that was turned in. Bottom line is if that gun can shoot a bullet, it can take away a life. So if that gun is operable, bring it in.”

… Clarke says they will continue the events as long as they are successful. He believes lives have been saved with the guns that have already been turned in, especially those of children whose parents keep guns in the home.

So, it’s not just WHYY calling the compensated confiscation events a success. The politicians putting on the “buybacks” are hailing them as well, which isn’t really a surprise. After all, Clarke is looking for some positive publicity, so his spin is par for the course. For the media to simply repeat his claims of success without question, however, isn’t just disappointing, but a dereliction of duty.

How exactly have these “buybacks” been successful? Yes, they’ve collected about 500 guns this year, but to what end? It’s not like crime is dropping in Philadelphia as a result. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Clarke and his media allies apparently gauge success by the number of guns turned in, as opposed to the impact that the “buybacks” are having on violent crime. If even one firearm is dropped off, then Clarke can claim victory because that’s one less gun out there. I’d argue that most Philadelphians have a far different metric of success.

The city could have collected 5-thousand firearms from its turn-in programs, but as long as shootings and homicides are on the rise, nothing the city’s doing can be considered a success. Philadelphians don’t give a damn about how many guns are turned in. They care about how many people are dying. They care about their kids not being able to play outside. They care about the lack of consequences for many criminals in a city where the homicide clearance rate is below 50%.

The simple truth is that gun buybacks don’t work. There’s no evidence that they reduce violent crime, suicides, or accidents involving firearms. The only folks who benefit are politicians like Darrell Clarke, who can reap some positive press from these events. Frankly, the good people in Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods deserve better than this empty rhetoric, but as long as they keep voting for the status quo, this is probably the best that they can expect; more shootings, more deaths, more violence… and more useless gun “buybacks” as well.