Chicago mayor to invest $250,000 in gun buyback events. Will it work?

Experts say buybacks tend to result in the collection of hunting rifles and old revolvers, not the kind of automatic weapons that criminals use. 

M. Spencer Green/AP/File
Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy speaks at a news conference as police displayed Chicago police display some of the thousands of illegal firearms they have confiscated in their battle against gun violence., July 7, 2014.

After an especially violent weekend in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce on Monday a new $250,000 fund to support gun buyback events throughout the city’s communities.

To access the fund, communities can apply to the Chicago Police Department, which will help the organizers recover the guns and provide cash cards for the sellers. The neighborhood organizations will be in charge of marketing and advertising the event, but will be in partnership with the city.

The announcement comes after a particularly grim weekend for Chicago. Between Friday night and early Monday morning, three people were killed and 18 others wounded in shootings across the city.

In one incident, a 3-year-old boy was accidentally shot in the head by his 6-year-old brother in a game of cops and robbers. Their father, the owner of the gun kept at the top of their refrigerator, faces felony child endangerment charges.

Chicago officials have attempted to restrict residents' access to guns. The city has moved to ban both handguns and gun stores, but in recent years, those measures have been struck down. Buyback programs are a way to involve the community in getting guns off the streets.

However, experts are unsure how much of a dent on street violence such programs can make. Researchers have found that instead of the automatic weapons criminals use, buyback campaigns tend to net hunting rifles and old, dusty revolvers.

"They make for good photo images," Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing at the University of Wisconsin's law school, told the Cincinnati Inquirer in 2013. "But gun buyback programs recover such a small percentage of guns that it's not likely to make much impact."

He added that buyback events attract people least likely to be involved in violent crimes with weapons wouldn’t possibly be used in such crimes. The real criminals, he said, avoid the events at all costs.

In New Albany, Ind., for instance, its 2013 buyback event yielded only two assault-style weapons and about 100 handguns. Bigger cities like Los Angeles and Chicago would turn up with more guns at buybacks, of course, but the type of guns is expected to be the same.

Still, some say gun buyback events generate great community solidarity. Regardless of practical result, buybacks do eliminate guns from households.

Dwight Young, the director of BLOC Ministries, told the Cincinnati Inquirer he understands buybacks don't actually seriously curb street crime – the statistics show this. But, he said, with fewer guns, the effort is worthwhile because it still might save a few lives.

Experts say gun policy, such as requirements for background checks and limits to certain high-caliber weapons, are more effective than buybacks, but only by a margin.

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