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Other Views: While Well-Intended, Gun Buy-Back Programs Miss the Target | Opinion

During Prohibition, newsreels shown in movie theaters often included footage of police or federal authorities smashing bottles of wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages confiscated from a smuggler or illegally mined.

Fifty years later, during the “War on Drugs”, television news frequently included video coverage of law enforcement officers similarly confiscating large amounts of marijuana, cocaine or other illegal drugs. to “get them off the streets”.

How effective have these tactics been?

Well, anyone who wanted a drink could have one during Prohibition. No wonder the law was eventually repealed.

As for the war on drugs, it has not ended the devastating impact that crack, methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl have had on this country ever since.

Philadelphia gun buyback events yielded 1,000 guns in three years. None had been used in crimes.

In this context, consider the gun buy-back programs touted in cities across America, including Philadelphia, as a useful tool to, let’s say it together, “get them off the streets.” Watching people surrender their guns for money makes for great TV news, but that’s about it.

Philadelphia recovered 558 handguns and 100 long guns in 16 buyouts last year. This tiny amount is unlikely to have an impact on the city’s record rate of shootings. By mid-year, 1,100 people had been shot. That’s up 8% from record numbers in 2021.

Buybacks do not take guns out of the hands of criminals. As Inquirer staff writers Ryan W. Briggs and Ellie Rushing recently reported, none of the more than 1,000 firearms turned in over the past three years in Philadelphia buyouts have been linked to a crime. . People who collected $50 to $200 gift cards for every gun they turned in may be richer, but their neighborhoods may not be safer.

A study released last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 339 takeovers in 277 cities and 110 counties between 1991 and 2015 had no significant impact on crime. No city or county saw a decline in crime greater than 1.3% in the 12 months following their takeovers.

In fact, the study indicates that a 7.7% increase in crimes involving a firearm occurred in these cities and counties within two months of a takeover. The researchers further found “no evidence that firearm-related suicides and homicides declined in the years following a buyout.”

So why continue to spend taxpayers’ money on buyouts? After all, the cost of the programs adds up: gift cards must be purchased (even if their price is reduced by the provider), and the city also pays the salaries and overtime of police personnel who organize events for make sure the weapons are safe. manipulated.

City University of New York criminology professor Joe Giacalone calls the takeovers “political theater.” That seems about right, given the number of local and state politicians who typically show up for, and sometimes sponsor, buyouts. Are they falsely building people’s hopes for something that buyouts can’t really deliver?

Some community activists want the buyouts to continue. Bilal Qayyum, one of the founders of the Father’s Day Rally Committee, believes that buyouts reduce murders even though there is no current data to support this claim. Jonathan Wilson, clinical director of the Fathership Foundation, says more lethal weapons used by criminals would be recovered if buybacks paid the same $800 to $1,000 a seller can make in the illegal market.

Their sentiment is certainly understandable. Wilson, who lives in southwest Philadelphia, says he was shot four times. But he also said there was an “ocean of weapons” in this city, and trying to get them off the streets by collecting a few hundred a year is like trying to empty that ocean with a bucket.

Better ways than buyouts have to be found – and soon.

The grip of the gun lobby on legislatures and Congress has made it seemingly impossible to enact meaningful restrictions on the purchase of guns, but that is still where the focus must be.

Too many people are shot, too many people are killed.