EDITORIAL: Gun buybacks don't do the job

York Dispatch

There are too many guns on the streets of York.

That much is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. After all, there have been more than a dozen shootings in the city since June, with the latest coming as a 15-year-old from Dallastown was robbed Wednesday afternoon.

So when the York City Police Department says it wants to get guns off the streets using a gun buyback program, it seems like a good idea. The department and the York County District Attorney's Office on Friday offered $50 gift cards to The Villa to anyone who turned in a gun, no questions asked, and at least 35 weapons were turned in.

After all, even making sure a small number of guns can't fall into the hands of criminals is a good thing, right?

And yet even York City Police Chief Wes Kahley admits that the program will do little to combat the violent crime in the city.

The event “won’t affect … the guns that are on the streets right now being used in crime,” Kahley said. 

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York City Police with the York County District Attorney's Office collected at least 35 guns, including rifles missles, at a buyback event held in the city on Friday, Oct. 27.

(Photo by Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)


Kahley said he expects most of the firearms people brought in are unwanted, unsecured guns that are sitting around the homes of law-abiding citizens.

The idea is prevention, he said. Those are guns that won't be stolen at some future date and used in a crime.

And that's a good thought. It makes sense that if there are fewer guns, there will be fewer gun crimes and fewer suicides and fewer gun accidents.

But that isn't how it actually works, according to Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.

The guns turned in during gun buybacks tend to be older firearms, lower caliber and often broken, Vernick said on NPR in 2013. The people who participate in gun buybacks are more likely to be older and female, he said.

Meanwhile, the guns used in crimes tend to be newer, higher caliber and, most importantly, in good condition, and they tend to be used by young men, Vernick said.

The one thing that gun buybacks do, he said, is make people in cities feel like they're doing something.

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"There's a felt need to respond to the problem of gun violence to specific shootings. And unlike efforts to change policy or enact new laws, gun buybacks are relatively easy to do," he said.

So police will trade firearms for gift cards, and the people who have turned over the old guns that were just sitting around the house will feel better that the guns are no longer there.

York City Police officers collect guns brought in for the city's gun buyback event at the York City Fire Department's Station No. 5 on Friday, Oct. 27.

(Photo by Lindsay C VanAsdalan)


Meanwhile, York City police are kept busy with near-daily calls of shots fired, meaning people in the city are hearing gunshots. Many times those shots don't hit people. Sometimes they hit cars or houses, sometimes they somehow don't hit anything. Too many times, they find a victim who wasn't the original target.

So yes, do the gun buybacks, Provide an easy, safe way for people to get rid of guns they no longer want.

But don't pretend it will mean any real change in the amount of violence in York City. Even the police chief knows that that will take a lot more work.