Less than two weeks ago, city leaders in Roanoke, Virginia were patting themselves on the back after hosting the city’s first ever gun “buyback” event. Gun owners could turn in unwanted firearms in exchange for a grocery store gift card, and after just an hour officials had run out of money and collected 91 firearms, which was seen as an unqualified success for those putting on the compensated confiscation program.
Organizers said the turnout — which included dozens more who didn’t make it to the head of line but put their names on a list for future buybacks that advocates hope to hold — was a testament to the potential for this type of community outreach.
Creating safe homes and safe neighborhoods takes an entire community pulling together, said Brenda Hale, president of the Roanoke NAACP, a co-sponsor of the buyback.
“We believe that everybody can do something,” Hale said. “The line that we have here is evidence that people want to do their part.”
I think it’s more evidence that people want to turn in garbage guns in exchange for some groceries, but let’s say for the sake of argument that Hale is right and the turnout was because people are truly trying to do something about violent crime. How well did that work out?
Not well at all.
The last few days have been busy in the Star City for the police department, but the incidents themselves are not what’s most problematic.
“When you have the incidents that happen, and you’re not getting information enough to further it right there, it takes the investigators a whole lot longer, that is not the only case they have so they’re working other cases,” said Deputy Chief Eric Charles.
These cases also pile up for the city’s lead prosecutor, Don Caldwell. His office depends on witness testimony and he often knows whether he will get that from initial police reports. So far this year there have been 48 gun-related incidents. Last year at this time, there were 36, which means there’s been a 33-percent increase.
Just this week there’s been a random shooting, shots fired at a local motel, and another shooting that left a man with serious injuries, which suggests to me that the folks standing in line to swap their guns for gift cards this past weekend aren’t the individuals who are actually responsible for Roanoke’s violence. And when it comes to good folks doing their part, it turns out that speaking up is much more valuable than taking part in a “buyback.”
“What we’ve dealt with here for the last few years is that it will say, witnesses did not cooperate or are not cooperating or it will say, which is even more concerning, that the very victim who was shot, is not cooperating,” said Caldwell.
That cooperation goes a long way, especially in the chain of events that lead to an offender going before a judge.
“The officer on the street makes a probable cause determination, the magistrate makes a probable cause determination, the general district judge makes a probable cause determination, the grand jury makes a probable cause determination, but the jury or judge in circuit court is deciding beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Caldwell.
According to Caldwell, it’s relatively easy to place a charge, but that charge will not move forward unless there’s evidence to back it.
If the NAACP and other community activist organizations really want to take serious steps to curb Roanoke’s violent crime, they should scrap their gun “buybacks” and work on promoting cooperation with police investigations. Unlike the recent gun turn-in event, that would actually have a substantive effect on ensuring that violent offenders face consequences for their actions, which in turn will have a deterrent effect on other violent criminals.
Gun “buybacks” are worthless when it comes to impacting public safety, as Roanoke’s recent event and the number of post-buyback shootings demonstrates. Feel-good, do-nothing public relations stunts won’t prevent a single crime, and its a waste of time and resources to pretend otherwise.