May 24, 2024
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New York’s Historic Gun Buyback Event: Thousands of Firearms Surrendered

Gun buyback programs have been around in the United States since the 1970s, and New York hosted nine simultaneous buyback events in one day, yielding more than 3,000 firearms, including 185 assault rifles, 1,656 handguns, and 823 long guns. The program offered rewards starting at $25, and assault rifles or ghost guns were worth $500 each. But the question remains: do gun buyback programs work?

What Is a Gun Buyback Program?

Gun buyback programs aim to reduce gun violence by compensating people who voluntarily turn over firearms to a public agency or private organization, typically at the county or city level. Guns turned in at buyback events are usually destroyed or reduced to raw materials and repurposed, and sometimes law enforcement officers check the weapons to determine if they are associated with known crimes.

Are Gun Buybacks Effective?

While gun buyback programs are popular, there is little evidence to show they’re effective in measurably reducing gun violence, even if they do prevent some incidents, according to a review of the programs by the RAND Corporation. The programs are cheap, easy to implement, and less politically divisive than policy change. They also give officials something to point to as a tangible action on a major issue. But only a small fraction of firearms in a community are surrendered at these events, the review found.

There is some evidence to suggest that national firearm bans and mandatory buybacks led to reductions in gun violence in other countries. Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, and the U.K. previously passed mandatory buybacks in conjunction with new restrictions. But it’s unclear if the same would be true in the U.S., where there are many more firearms, according to the review.

New York’s Gun Buyback Programs

In New York, people were allowed to turn in as many weapons as they wished, with no questions asked and no ID required. Guns were required to be unloaded and placed in a plastic bag, paper bag, or box, and they were allowed to be transported in the trunk of a vehicle. The program accepted assault weapons, handguns, rifles, shotguns, homemade or 3D-printed handguns, replicas and nonworking guns. Rewards started at $25, and assault rifles or ghost guns went for $500 each, according to the office.

Attorney General Letitia James removed more than 7,000 guns from New York communities since taking office in 2019, according to her office. The New York City Police Department also has an anonymous buyback program called Cash for Guns, which offers $200 to anyone who surrenders a gun.

While the buybacks likely have relatively little effect on homicide rates, they may have some effect on gun accidents and gun suicides, said David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. “An important outcome of the buyback is having people work together, making it more likely they will work together on other aspects of the problem,” he said.

Buyback Programs: A Solution to Gun Violence Reduction?

Gun buyback programs have been around for decades, but their effectiveness in reducing gun violence is still up for debate. While New York’s recent buyback event yielded thousands of firearms, it’s unclear how much of an impact it will have on the state’s overall gun violence rates. However, the events do provide an opportunity for people to safely dispose of unwanted firearms and potentially prevent tragedies. They also serve as a tangible action on a major issue and may encourage people to work together on other aspects of reducing gun violence. 

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