American cities have run gun buyback campaigns for decades, despite a growing body of evidence that they fail to reduce violent crime. Over just the past two months, an event in Richmond, Va., netted 474 firearms, one in Houston collected 845 guns, and Dane County, Wi., received more than 500 guns. A Pew Stateline report examines why such efforts don't fulfill violence-reduction goals, and under what circumstances they might — or at least how they could address other policy aims.
"It’s a waste of resources if the entities that are sponsoring believe that it’s going to have a positive effect on reducing crime,” said Keith Taylor, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But if the purpose is to provide a means for individuals to get rid of weapons from their households that they don’t want to have anymore, it absolutely is a good option." A study by Mark Anderson, a professor of economics at Montana State University, showed that buybacks are ineffective because they offer too little money, tend to take place in low-crime areas and collect firearms that are older and less functional. “Who’s choosing to turn their gun in?” Anderson asked. “It’s probably not the person on the margins whose gun we’re trying to get off the street. That gun from grandpa is not the one that is going to be involved in a crime later on. It’s the voluntary nature of these things.” Buybacks can be a positive factor in addressing in-home accidents and suicides. But the example often cited of a successful violence-reduction strategy, Australia's response to a mass shooting by buying back and destroying hundreds of thousands of guns, worked at reducing homicides and suicides because it built on "factors in Australia (that) aren't present in the U.S.," said Bradley Bartos, an assistant professor of government and public policy at the University of Arizona, who studied the impact of the Australian model in a 2019 paper in Prevention Science. Those factors included outlawing entire classes of guns, mandatory confiscation, and Australia's geographic isolation, which inhibits gun trafficking.