Charlottesville considers gun buyback program: Is it worthwhile?
At Montana State University, economics professor Mark Anderson has studied programs that pay people to turn in their weapons, and he draws one clear conclusion.
“On average these things appear to not be effective in reducing gun related violence,” he says.
That’s because people who end up using guns to commit crimes are unlikely to surrender their firearms for gift cards – the usual reward in these programs, and some of what comes in doesn’t even work.
“Someone turning in their broken-down hunting rifle for $25 is someone who is not on the margin of committing a crime with that gun in the first place,” Anderson explains.
What seem to be more effective in preventing gun violence are laws requiring people to lock up their weapons.
“People who have guns should be keeping them away from children," says the Virginia Public Safety Center's Andy Goddard. "They should be keeping them away from thieves by not leaving them in their cars unlocked. Guns are stolen at a ridiculous rate from vehicles.”
He adds that it’s unlikely a gun would be stolen from a home safe, and technology makes it fast and easy to retrieve a weapon should the owner need it.
“There are biometric safes now which you just walk up to it, put your finger onto the button, and it opens up. It takes less time, possibly, than pulling open a drawer and rooting around for it.”
Still, Anderson says buyback programs are more popular than laws requiring safe keeping of weapons.
“Gun buyback programs have optics that other policies do not have. You know you see – the day after a buyback program is held – the mayor standing next to tables filled with guns – you can see this.”
That, Goddard says, raises awareness of gun violence, and if buybacks prevent a single homicide or suicide they’re one of many things worth doing.