Youth Violence Interventions

Gun Buy-backs

The rising rate of gun-related violence has prompted a number of interventions to reduce the availability of firearms, particularly to juveniles (Roth 1994). Gun "buy backs" have been tried in many communities in an effort to reduce the prevalence of readily accessible firearms. In each instance, citizens are asked to turn in firearms in exchange for cash, toys, concert tickets or some other item of value.

Some buy-backs have collected an impressive number of firearms. They can also generate substantial publicity. Eighty-six percent of respondents to a public opinion poll were aware of a buy-back program in Seattle (Callahan 1994). More than half believed the program would "remove guns from the streets of Seattle." A majority also believed that the program would reduce firearm injuries. A solid majority of both gun owners and non-gun owners believed that public funds should be used to support the program.

Despite this enthusiasm, there is no evidence that buy-backs reduce crime or violence. The rate of gun robberies, assaults, suicides and homicides in Seattle did not decline in the six months following the buy-back program (Callahan 1994). Similarly disappointing effects were noted in St. Louis.

It is possible that buy-back programs are not successful because the guns that are turned in are generally "low risk" firearms that are not in active circulation. It also seems clear that the quantity of "old guns" that are turned in is swamped by the number of "new guns" that are acquired in the same period of time. A survey of households in metropolitan Atlanta (recently the scene of a number of highly publicized gun buy-backs) revealed that less than half of one percent reported participating in a buy-back during the preceding year. Ten percent had acquired a firearm during the same interval of time (Kellermann and Fuqua-Whitley, 1995).