Are gun buy-backs a good program for crime prevention?
(District of Columbia area)
Our city council woman thinks that a gun buy-back program would solve everything. Like if we have no guns, we have no crime. That might do some good, but we have people in our hood that are making so much money with the drugs and copying CDs that I don't think those people will give up their guns to get a little bit of money. I like your web site, and I wonder what you think.
Editors' Reply: The Solutions for America project of the Pew Foundation found that there isn't consistent evidence that gun buy-back programs prevent crime. So we think the answer is maybe.
We wouldn't want to disrespect your elected official, so maybe your approach could be to suggest that while you're waiting for the gun buy-back program to be organized by your police department, you could try something else too.
The best crime prevention measures tend to be education, getting people out of poverty, addressing substance abuse, and a community policing program.
Community policing has to do with police getting out of their cars and mingling with the people to get acquainted, know who's who and what's what. If you understand normal for a neighborhood, you stand a better chance of picking up when something is wrong.
Drug sales in your neighborhood are a very bad problem, both because they give your area a bad reputation and because they can lead to innocent bystanders getting caught in violence.
Look at drug sellers and people who sell fake merchandise as potential entrepreneurs and try to get them interested in something in life other than taking advantage of other people. Educational, recreational, and economic opportunity in the neighborhood will cause a dropoff in selling illegal drugs.
Just like the rest of us, dealers sometimes will take a pay cut when they see a more interesting job.
Now let's talk directly about guns and the gun buy-back idea. Generally we think it's noble to try to reduce the number of handguns that shoot people, not game. Even if everyone were well-intentioned, there would be some unfortunate accidents.
But since the population seems increasingly unable or unwilling to control their impulses and manage anger, mixing guns with a bad state of mind is when the real trouble begins.
In theory, we like the gun buy-back idea because it rests on the idea of peer group action. The thought process might be, "I'll turn in my gun because other people are doing it." Sometimes people only have a gun in the first place because they feel as though everyone else has one.
In practice, if you have a mindset of hopelessness, despair, and apathy in your neighborhood, it's only a matter of time before fear takes over again and you have more handguns than you would like again.
So our best advice is to concentrate on bettering the economic conditions for neighborhood residents, building hope, giving people reasons to live, turning young people toward constructive activity, and improving relations with the police to the point that people are willing to testify against people who commit crimes and misdemeanors.
We know that in some urban neighborhoods, it's hard to trust the police because of bad incidents from the past or perhaps very current instances of disrespect for citizens. However, developing a positive police relationship by politely educating them about your needs is important to reducing crime. Keep in mind that if you don't tell what you know, you're downgrading police opinion of your neighborhood. Don't give police an excuse to ignore you.
So the gun buy-back program isn't a bad idea; it just isn't the only solution you should be pursuing. Results are very likely to be temporary if you don't start addressing the basic mindset of the community and organizing yourselves into a law-abiding community.