Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - Bill of Rights

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Monday, March 18, 2013

Gun Buybacks Make Politicians Feel Good

By The Philadelphia Inquirer - 3/18/2013

TRENTON, NJ - In a state where there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of firearms in the hands of private citizens, is it reasonable to expect that taking several thousand off the streets will have an impact on gun crime?

The Christie administration and many law enforcement officials argue that the state gun-buyback program under way will help reduce gun violence. To date, the state has paid about $900,000 to buy more than 7,000 weapons from residents, and it plans its next purchases Friday and Saturday in Atlantic City and Pleasantville.

Such programs are popular not only with law enforcement but also with residents of high-crime cities such as Camden, where the state began its current round of gun buybacks Dec. 14, the day, coincidentally, of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings in Newtown, Conn.

Yet the evidence is meager that such programs, widely employed across the nation since the Newtown killings, reduce gun violence.
Skeptics say that buybacks merely end up confiscating little-used weapons and that street criminals rarely turn in their guns.

"They provide a sense of people doing something to address a very complex problem," said Bernard Melekian, director of the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services program, which has funded programs in Philadelphia and Camden. But, he added, "I don't think there is much data to suggest that they reduce violence."

Far more effective, Melekian said, are antiviolence measures such as Cure Violence (formerly CeaseFire-Chicago), where community organizers have had success defusing violence by mediating gang disputes before they escalate into gun battles.

That also is the view of Micah Khan, a Camden community activist who helped with the Camden gun buyback in December. Khan said most of the 1,037 guns dropped off at two community churches that hosted the event came from outside the city and likely were not crime weapons to begin with.

"I am a believer in the idea that every gun you get off the streets is a good thing," Khan said. "But if you talk about effectiveness, there is no data to show that."

Hardened street criminals say they need their weapons for protection, Khan said. "When I talk to guys on the corner, they tell me I would rather be caught with it than without it," he said.

Yet, amid escalating concern over gun violence, advocates insist the program not only reduces firearm violence but also sends a message that government and residents are taking steps to deal with the problem.

State Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa, who has overseen New Jersey's recent round of gun buybacks, said reducing the number of weapons in circulation, illegal or not, enhanced public safety.

"We are always focused on getting illegal weapons out of circulation, and the buyback program has been incredibly successful in doing so -- removing over 1,000 illegal guns from New Jersey's streets," he said. "However, that is not the only goal. We are also interested in taking unwanted guns out of circulation because any gun, whether legal or illegal, can be stolen and used to commit a crime or be accidentally and tragically discharged."

Added Chiesa: "The efficacy of our program is proven by our results. How many criminal investigations would it take to net 1,000 illegal weapons?"

In Camden alone, Chiesa said, the police recovered five fully automatic firearms.

The Rev. Bob Moore of the Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, which advocates for stricter gun-control measures, also said reducing the number of weapons in circulation, illegal or not, limited the risk of gun violence.

"The intent is good to try and reduce the availability of guns because that is what causes so many gun tragedies, whether it is the young person in the home who has access to a gun and is depressed or the [shootings] that just happened in Newtown," he said.

Since the Newtown massacre, the state has organized four gun buybacks, including the program in Camden. Gun buybacks are under way in Pennsylvania, too. Coatesville police and community groups planned to sponsor a buyback at the Coatesville Memorial Community Center on Saturday, offering $100 per weapon.

In New Jersey, the buybacks have taken place in churches to create an atmosphere of safety and to assure people turning in weapons that they won't have to worry about punitive measures by the police, said Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for Chiesa.

The state pays up to $250 for operable weapons. The money is from asset forfeitures from drug dealers and other criminals.

There are an estimated 270 million-plus firearms in the hands of private citizens in the United States, according to the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland.

What good is it to take a relative handful of guns out of private hands when so many weapons are in circulation already, skeptics ask. Melekian, of the Justice Department's community policing program, cites the same statistics in questioning whether gun buybacks have much impact.
Chiesa says you have to start somewhere.

"I am not suggesting that a gun buyback would have prevented what happened in Newtown, Conn., where we had a cowardly act carried out against children and educators," he said. "But we have to keep forging ahead, using all of the strategies at our disposal. We are going to act and we are going to innovate."

(c)2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer

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