St. Louis city leaders hope that a program to give cash in exchange for guns Saturday will help curb the city’s increasing violence.
But experts say gun buybacks — while popular — are ineffective.
That doesn’t sway the St. Louis mayor.
“Frankly, if we get one, or two, or 10 guns off the street that would have been used in a serious crime, I will consider that a success,” Mayor Lyda Krewson told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
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“There is not one thing that we can do that will solve this. We have to do a lot of different things on a lot of different levels. Gun buyback is just one of those things.”
St. Louis area residents handing guns over to authorities can get $200 for assault rifles and guns with a magazine capacity of more than 10 rounds, $150 for shotguns and rifles, and $100 for handguns.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports hundreds of people have already turned out for the weekend buyback.
All guns must be unloaded when turned in, and the buyback is anonymous.
The buyback effort was announced by St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and Department of Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards earlier this month. The idea, they said, is to encourage the public to hand in guns they suspect could be used in a crime.
“I’m trying to reach good people that are willing to turn in guns that are perhaps in their homes unlawfully, good people like neighbors that have seen children walking the street with guns,” Edwards said.
As of Friday, St. Louis had 203 homicides this year — a 21-year high.
Describing a region “awash in guns,” Krewson urged city residents to report crimes.
“The level of violence in our city is at a crisis level,” Krewson said.
Studies have shown that gun buyback programs usually just collect old guns, like inoperable hunting rifles that aren’t the type used in crimes, and the impact of the buybacks on crime was “not statistically significant,” according to The Cincinnati Enquirer.
And a few researchers believe buybacks may even do some harm: A 1999 article in the Law and Order journal found that some people sold guns to police during buybacks and then used the money to buy new guns.
So what can be done to reduce crime?
Matt Makarios, a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, told The Cincinnati Enquirer that stringent gun laws limiting access to certain weapons or require background checks are slightly more effective in reducing violence than gun buybacks.
But not much more.
The most successful efforts, he said, involve old-fashioned police work, in which officers, probation departments and other law enforcement agencies work together to identify and target the biggest threats.