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Troy L. Wheeler

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Strategy: Reduce The Number Of Handguns In The Community

Strategy Buy-back programs and other strategies to reduce the number of handguns help reduce violence and other crime. Crime . . .

Strategy

Buy-back programs and other strategies to reduce the number of handguns help reduce violence and other crime.

Crime Problem Addressed

Across the United States, an average of four people die from gunshot wounds each hour. Guns are the leading cause of death among males of all races ages fifteen to twenty-four. Firearms kill more teenagers than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, and all other biological diseases combined. A 1991 study of gun ownership and homicide published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that keeping a gun in a home nearly triples the chance that someone will be killed on the premises. Handguns accounted for six times the number of homicides committed by all other firearms combined. In homes with a gun, there is a five times greater chance that a family member will commit suicide. Treating a youth with a gunshot wound costs more than a year of college.

This strategy aims to reduce all crimes that involve guns, including assault, armed robbery, gang violence, and homicide. In addition, the strategy seeks to reduce accidents with handguns, many of which wound or kill children, and to reduce suicides, which occur much more often in homes where a gun is readily available.

Key Components

Among the key components of a gun buy-back strategy is the offer of incentives for people to turn in handguns, such as a cash payment, grocery store certificate, or concert tickets. Other important factors are a guarantee of anonymity for owners of illegal guns; numerous deposit sites to maximize gun-owner participation; publicity to advertise the gun turn-in program; and an educational component to reinforce the impact of gun violence and the importance of storing safely guns kept in the home.

Key Partnerships

The key partnerships are those between the sponsoring groups (often community organizations or local business leaders) and the police who receive and dispose of the guns. Another key partnership is between the sponsors and the media who help publicize the program and incentives. Schools, churches, youth groups, and civic, social, and service clubs should also publicize the program and encourage members to consider turning in their guns.

Potential Obstacles

One challenge is to ensure that guns can be turned in with no questions asked. Family members might be reluctant to turn in an illegal or unregistered gun if it would cause legal trouble. Another challenge is to find the donors to support the incentives used in a gun exchange program. Police may be reluctant to participate over concern about necessary resources to store the weapons and perform ballistics checks on the guns. The community should be educated to look at turn-in programs as one of many integrated strategies to reduce gun-related violence in a community.

Signs of Success

At the launch of the Cleveland, Ohio, gun exchange program in 1994, a city council member noted, "Handgun exchange programs have proven an effective way of getting unwanted handguns off our streets, as well as increasing the public's level of awareness to the dangers of guns and violence in America."

The Cleveland program netted 2,300 guns in 1994. The handgun exchange program provided a voucher for $75 worth of groceries for each operable handgun. Five churches served as neighborhood turn-in sites. Besides the Mayor's Office, other sponsors included a television station, a radio station, and supermarkets. Public media co-sponsorship helped assure that the word got out effectively. Cleveland's churches also reinforced the dangers of handguns used in violent acts and the benefits of the gun exchange program.

Applying the Strategy

In its six-day gun buy-back program, Norfolk, Virginia, collected 824 handguns, 235 shotguns and rifles, 1 machine gun, and 34 illegal sawed-off shotguns. Over the same period of time in 1992, Hennepin County, Minnesota, collected 6,000 firearms--1,000 per day! In a thirty-day period, St. Louis, Missouri, collected 7,500 guns.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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