A statement, not a strategy

THE APPARENTLY accidental shooting of a 9-year-old boy by his 14-year-old brother on Friday reinforced the will of the Walsh administration to conduct a gun buyback program. It’s an understandable response in light of the Mattapan shooting. But Bostonians shouldn’t expect the initiative — per se — to reduce gun violence in any significant fashion.

Gun buyback programs encourage people to turn in firearms, no questions asked, at a centralized location in return for cash or gift cards, usually in the $100 range. Proponents argue that any gun taken out of circulation is a win in the wider effort to reduce the number of firearms in American homes.

But study after study of gun buyback programs shows they produce no reduction in the monthly average of firearm-related robberies, assaults, and murders. The weapons turned in are often obsolete or inoperable, and rarely of the type used in crimes. And regardless of where the buyback takes place, the number of collected weapons falls short of additional gun purchases. The National Academy of Sciences has called the concept “badly flawed.’’


Still, there are legitimate reasons to go forward. Buybacks, which are often located in churches, require careful coordination among police, clergy, and community leaders. These relationships, more so than the buyback itself, can lead to the sharing of valuable information on criminal activity in the neighborhoods.

If the Walsh administration is indeed going forward with this plan, it should maximize the possibility of removing the guns most likely to be used in crimes. Instead of providing an identical sum for each gun, it should use the model of a sliding scale. An inoperable rifle, for example, might yield $50. A large-caliber semiautomatic handgun of the type commonly used in crimes might fetch several hundred dollars. While no panacea, a gun buyback is still a useful demonstration of the city’s outrage over the proliferation of guns.