RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Earlier this week, Mayor Levar Stoney announced a gun buyback event designed to reduce gun violence in the City of Richmond, but years of research have cast doubt on the effectiveness of buyback programs in reducing gun violence.

On Tuesday, August 2, Mayor Levar Stoney announced a gun buyback initiative to reduce gun violence by offering up to $250 in gift cards in exchange for weapons.

During the announcement, Stoney said that in Richmond, “We have too many guns in the hands of too many individuals who shouldn’t have guns.”

Stoney made a simple pitch for the event: every gun taken off the street was one less gun that could potentially be involved in a shooting, accidental or intentional, further down the line.

The Research

Mark Anderson is a Ph.D. in economics and professor at Montana State University whose research focuses on the intersection of crime, public health and microeconomics. Anderson is also one of the co-authors of a 2021 study titled, “Have U.S. Gun Buyback Programs Misfired?”

In short, Anderson said, the answer is that they “found very little evidence to suggest that, on average, these things have been effective at reducing gun-related violence.”

While the data they gathered, which covered dozens of gun buybacks across the country, showed a clear pattern of ineffectiveness, Anderson said the study couldn’t shed much light on why the programs failed.

Locations of gun buybacks included in the study. (Figure from “Have U.S. Gun Buyback Programs Misfired?“)

Anderson did say that, anecdotally, one flaw in the programs is that they’re completely voluntary, “There’s this selection of effect of, what kind of person is turning in their gun? Is it the type of person on the margin who we really want to turn in their gun? And I think the answer to that question is probably not.”

Stoney, meanwhile, pointed to the popularity of similar buyback programs in other cities.

“We don’t have a particular target number,” he said, but noted that other cities had run out of gift cards because of high demand.

In the end, the popularity of the program might not matter much at all.

“You see these huge differences in the amount of weapons turned in,” said Anderson, adding that they eventually chose to focus on cities that had managed to buy large amounts of weapons

“We thought, maybe an effect will show up if we just focus on these, what we call major gun buybacks,” Anderson said. “And we didn’t find much there either.”

In fact, they found little difference between instances where there was strong participation in a buyback event and instances where just a few dozen guns were handed over.

What Else is There?

Mayor Stoney was also careful to emphasize that the gun buyback program wouldn’t be a “panacea” for the city’s gun violence epidemic. The gun buyback would go hand-in-hand with Stoney’s other programs to combat gun violence, which include a rash of arrests seemingly targeted at public housing residents, declaring a public health crisis and expanding social support networks for vulnerable youth.

Anderson has also conducted research into safe storage laws and child access prevention laws, which mandate locks and other safety measures for gun owners.

“That’s a policy that, at the state level at least, was being pushed in the ’90s, early 2000s,” Anderson said, adding that more recently some cities have taken them up again.

“I don’t know whether the recent city-level laws have been effective,” Anderson said. “But at least historically speaking, the state laws that were passed in the ’90s and 2000s, we found that those deterred youth gun carrying, they deterred juvenile firearm-related homicides.”

He noted that those policies also enjoyed support across the political spectrum.