Firearm Injury Interventions

Gun Buy-back Programs


Programs tried in a number of communities to decrease the availability of guns include the offer of an incentive such as cash to "buy back" guns from citizens. The first such program was begun in Baltimore over 20 years ago. During a 3 month period, 13,000 guns were collected as part of a gun buy-back program. Since then, many more cities have conducted gun buy-back programs.

We could find only one evaluation of such a program, conducted by our Center in 1994.

Review of gun buy-back interventions:


Callahan et al., 1994

Study design and target population

Cross sectional study. Seattle, WA September, 1992


Gun buy back program. (SGBBP) Participants who turned in one or more guns received $50 voucher redeemable at local bank.


Firearm-related crimes within jurisdiction of the Seattle Police Department, firearm injuries admitted to the regional trauma center and firearm deaths as recorded by the King County Medical examiners office. Calculated mean number of firearm events per month for 12 months before and 6 months after buy back program.

Random Digit Dialing survey of 1000 residents to determine knowledge and attitudes toward program


1,172 firearms turned in, 95% were handguns, 83% operational. No statistically significant change in monthly average of firearm-related robberies, assaults or homicides, admissions to trauma center or firearm deaths.

86% of RDD sample had heard of program, 60% supported use of public funds for such programs.

Study quality and conclusions

Program removed 1 percent of guns from community, too few to change outcome measures. Study well designed to evaluate program.

RDD survey indicated wide community knowledge or and support for campaign.

Recommend community program for voluntary disposal of firearms.

Summary of gun buy-back interventions

This study demonstrated that a gun buy back program can achieve widespread community support and acceptance. However, for such a program to be effective, it would have to be operated on a much larger scale. The authors calculated that $1 million would be needed to finance a gun buy back program to decrease the prevalence of gun ownership by 30% in Seattle, a community of 500,000 people.

Of course, one of the concerns about such programs is that the people who would turn in their handguns are the ones least likely to misuse them. While this may be true of criminal misuse of handguns, handguns are frequently used to commit suicide and some of the household members affected by the gun buy back program might be potential suicide victims. In addition, approximately 500,000 guns are stolen each year in the US, and decreasing the availability of guns through a buy back program may affect this secondary market in guns.

Recommendations on gun buy-back programs

At present, we can cautiously recommend these programs. They are for the most part politically neutral, and have good citizen support. However, promoters of these programs should be careful about not overstating their potential benefits.

Recommendations on future research

There is a clear need for more research on gun buy back programs. Our study should be replicated on a larger scale.