It's nice that officials in the city of Amsterdam are conducting a program to buy back guns. It makes everyone feel good when they know there are fewer guns floating around.
But practical experience in cities around the country has shown that collecting guns doesn't have a tangible impact on crime. The real impact comes from the opportunity these programs provide to educate.
First off, criminals don't turn in their guns unless they're out for a quick buck. In the Amsterdam case, the prize is a gift certificate to a shopping mall, hardly an incentive to your average thug.
Also, the guns that people turn in often don't tend to be the kind favored by criminals. Rather, they're usually broken or old guns, or they're rifles or large handguns that criminals aren't likely to use anyway.
Many people just use buybacks as an opportunity to rid themselves of weapons they don't use or that aren't in a place where they can be accessed by a child, thief or suicidal person. It's like when scrap yards pay you to take your old junk cars or appliances. If you can make a buck off an old junk gun, then why not?
Sure it's possible that some of these guns might have wound up being stolen or lost and used in a crime, but studies show that's rare. So don't expect an end to any crime wave due to this effort.
But where gun buyback programs like this one can be effective is in the opportunity they provide to educate people about proper storage, security and handling of weapons. It's a chance to promote the statistics about suicides and accidental shootings. It's a chance to educate people about New York's gun laws and to encourage people to register their weapons so they can be tracked if they are stolen. It's a chance to reflect on the impetus for mass shootings, such as mental illness, and perhaps to encourage people to examine whether they have the means to intervene with a vulnerable person.
The gun buyback program addresses a serious issue, and officials in Montgomery County and Amsterdam should be commended for initiating it.
But the real value won't be in the actual number of guns they collect through the program, but in the number of people they reach and the lives they potentially save with the message they’re sending.
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