Why Mayor Walsh’s Gun-Buyback Program Is Moronic

Arrests aren’t the only thing, but they are a big thing.

Photo via Associated Press

Photo via Associated Press

Well, the new mayor of Boston made it almost exactly a month in office before doing something so utterly moronic that I feel compelled to heap verbal abuse upon him.

Marty Walsh has decided to institute a gun-buyback program.

Let me try to explain this through analogy: trying to reduce gun violence through a gun buyback program is like trying to reduce motor-vehicle accidents through a used-car trade-in offer.

If you’d like a more extensive argument, you can read the diatribe I penned when Tom Menino tried the strategy, back in mid 2006. I have data showing clearly that the level of gun violence remained virtually unchanged, both in the short term and for the next three years or so, after the buyback.

I will give Walsh partial credit for one thing: as gun violence has soared once again to the forefront of Boston’s consciousness, he has taken to mouthing a common phrase of criminal-justice reformers: “We can’t arrest our way out of the problem.” There is an important truth embedded therein: reducing violent crime must involve preventative strategies. And, it is encouraging that Walsh, unlike many politicians, is willing to empathize with the conditions of perpetrators—a prerequisite to understanding what assistance, enticements, or threats would actually affect their behavior.

But Walsh also needs to understand that while you can’t arrest your way out of the problem, you also can’t get out of the problem without arrests.

In fact, one of the core problems of Boston’s gun violence problem is that the Boston Police Department and Suffolk County District Attorney’s office are just atrociously awful at actually arresting and prosecuting people for shooting other people with guns. Just flat-out terrible.

As I wrote in another old piece:

A National Institute of Justice urban-homicide study found that a city’s low arrest rate leads to a higher murder rate in both that same year and the following one.

Most obviously, an unsolved murder leaves a murderer on the loose. More broadly, it reduces the deterrent effect of the law by showing that people can, in fact, get away with murder. And it leaves angry friends and family of the victim more apt to take justice and vengeance into their own hands.

In Boston’s case, with tragically low clearance rates for gun homicides and virtually non-existent clearance rates for non-fatal shootings, you get a proliferation of guns among the criminally minded, and an increased willingness to use them; and thus a level of gun violence that leads many ordinary people in certain neighborhoods to feel, quite rationally, that they need guns to protect themselves against it.

The Boston Police Department and Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, unfortunately, have tended to throw up their hands at the clearance problem—not surprisingly, since that would assign blame to themselves. Hence D.A. Dan Conley insisting in a mayoral debate last year that Boston’s homicide clearance rates are so low because our murders take place at night, making them hard to solve.

Likewise, back in 2002, the BPD explicitly gave up on improving clearance rates for shootings as the department itself described in the adoption of its ironically titled “Unsolved Shootings Project.” Gun violence soared in the following years. It is head-slappingly obvious, from our future vantage point, that the department might have benefited instead from addressing its awful, outdated homicide-investigation protocols; its thoroughly untrained, untested, and largely unprofessional ballistics unit; and its criminally incompetent fingerprint unit.

So here we are in 2014, going through many of the same motions we made in the last decade with many of the same people, too. Commissioner William Evans has chosen as new superintendent in charge of the Bureau of Investigative Services Robert Merner, who is much liked and respected inside the department but to me represents much of the same-old-same-old approach that Ed Davis made some headway in replacing. Davis, coming in from the outside without a personal stake in the way things had been done, was at least willing to shake up the homicide unit. It’s unsurprising that Evans, Merner, and Conley are not pointing at issues within the departments they have been large parts of for many years.

This is why Walsh needs to listen to a few more people, and then put Evans and Merner on a leash. He needs to tell them to pull the clearance rates for shootings up near national standards, or he’ll get someone who can. And also to work on the broader ways of changing the dynamics for potential perpetrators. It has to be both.

Unfortunately, the gun-buyback is neither.

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  • http://luckytaxicab.com/ Boston Taxi

    We need more abortion clinics. That is the only proven way to reduce crime.. of course it does take 16 years to show up in statistics.

  • Sara

    Meh – I don’t see any harm in an “all of the above” approach. And I assume this will only be part of his administration’s efforts to curb gun violence.

    • FrancisMcManus

      The author is right that gun buybacks succeed in getting about 1-2% of guns off the street. The author is wrong that it’s a moronic act.

      Experts in the field who devalued gun buybacks pre-Sandy Hook now say ‘doing something’ has value, even if the effect on gun saturation is minimal.

      Experts say getting the community engaged in helping to solve the problem of gun violence is essential.

      And experts say pricing the guns that are being used for violence higher than old relics helps, too.

      A gun buyback in isolation is unlikely to yield big results. As part of an effort to do things that engage the community in addressing and reducing gun violence, it may be a good start.

  • IBSAYING

    The author has nailed it, all of it! Now if only the Mayor and the commissioner would read this and get a grasp on reality.

  • Steve Abraira

    How about we just put up a big fence around one section of the city….

    • FrancisMcManus

      You mean you’re fine with gun violence as long as it happens “over there”?

      There are a lot of people “over there” who are raising families, working hard and paying their taxes. What is it about ‘them’ who live “over there” that you are unconcerned if they’re affected in gun violence injury and death?

      • 2alago

        VERY happy to have gun violence happening “over there” I live in NH…the gun violence is happening in MA. we have shall inssue concealed carry, and stand your ground, safer streets and lower insurance. As long as the bay state cntinues with the stupidity of things like gun buybacks the criminals will stay down there where its safe for them.

        • FrancisMcManus

          What could NH do to help stop Illegal Gun Trafficking?

          Convicted felon from Lawrence MA buys 11 guns illegally in Hudson NH through Straw Buyer: http://www.eagletribune.com/local/x1262676309/Lawrence-man-gets-21-months-for-buying-guns-illegally

          • 2alago

            And he took the guns TO LAWRENCE why didn’t they get used by NH criminals to commit crimes in NH? because he stands a very good chance of ending up dead in NH and a very slim chance of staying in Jail in MA. And before you get to lecturing me about Lawrence I rode an Ambulance in that city for years…I know what goes on there better than anyone wants to. But I digress, you were about to tell me how restricting what kinds of guns I can purchase and keeping record of my purchases in NH was somehow going to curb the “Spanish” and other nationality drug gang and violence problems in Mingya-ritaville? It has never occurred to a single lefty that these sh^tbags can bring guns in with the same shipments that bring in their heroin, crack and whatever else they are peddling these days. Gun control is not about anything beyond the lawful gun owner and it always has been. Buybacks are to keep guns from ending up in consignment shops, pawn brokers, and gun auctions where a lawful citizen might legally purchase them. Has it occurred that if you have a “no questions asked” buy back that you might be collecting and destroying evidence of crimes?

    • 2alago

      I’m with ya Chief….just pull all companies from the Hot Zone first surround and drown as needed….

  • ConeyIslandtoBoston

    The 14 year old that shot his younger brother may have found that gone laying around the house or discarded elsewhere. Perhaps if it could have been sold to the BPD in a buy back sale, it wouldn’t have been in one brother’s hands pointing at the other. Perhaps is good enough for me.

    • Jackal81

      “Perhaps” is a pretty low standard to institute a public policy on such a divisive subject as gun control. I recommend you revisit your standards and try to obtain substantial facts before recommending such broad public policy.

      • ConeyIslandtoBoston

        Perfect in your eyes or anybody’s eyes takes too long to attain and is too subjective a standard for public policy. In the meantime, children and other living breathing beings are subject to wounds and worse. If you are willing to wait and risk your child and yourself – go right ahead. Less effective than perfect programs, if they are continuously improved upon and added to – are fine with me. Doing nothing while you like, the Captain of the USS Caine, count strawberries – is not what I elect leaders for. Get it? No time for sanctimony.

        • Jackal81

          You offer a false dichotomy to justify your position. No one said the policy has to be perfect to implement, and all I stated was that you should have some actual facts to back your public policy suggestion.

          How you try to accuse me of being sanctimonious is beyond me. A reasonable person would have no problem backing policy suggestions with facts, and if anything you are the one being sanctimonious, so nice try.

          Maybe you missed the portion of the article where it said that a gun buyback was tried before, and it didn’t work. We are supposed to learn from our past actions as humans, but apparently you want to elect leaders, like Dianne Feinstein, who offer the same solutions like Assault Weapons Bans and gun buy backs that don’t work.

          But hey, if your ok with ‘perhaps’ we should try policies that we’ve tried before which don’t work, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. What irks me is that your suggestion of failed policy effects the rest of us, so maybe, just maybe you should actually examine the efficacy of the policy you suggest instead of giving us false dichotomies and knee-jerk-do-something suggestions.

          • FiftycalTX

            “HOPE” isn’t a plan, it’s a faith. And we all know how socialists feel about “faith”. You can see the results of this “faith” in the DECLINE of our country, just as Obama had planned.

  • CrypticPunk

    Hey Boston Criminals. It looks like according to the article that the Boston Police are afraid of the dark, so make sure you kill people and commit robberies at night, because the Boston Police are too scared to chase out or even care about crime after dark

  • agingcynic

    Way to burn the bridge while you’re in the middle of it, Dave. Calling our new Night School mayor a “moron”. Now he probably wouldn’t tell you if they annexed Dedham.

  • HeyImGrump

    If you’re aware of a buyback in your area, take some cash and ask people in line if they want a $200 gift card to Target from the police, or $200 cash for their gun. Most people will take the cash, pieces of history won’t be turned into scrap, and it’s a cost-effective way to add to your collection.

    • JamVee

      Great idea!

  • FiftycalTX

    What MA needs is a SHALL ISSUE concealed handgun license requirement. Then those that CHOSE to protect themselves can. After a few robbers/muggers/thugs get shot, crime goes down. Has happened EVERYWHERE it has been tried, lilke in about 38 states.

    • Rico

      Amen! Everyone is safer when criminals can’t tell who is armed.

    • LarryEArnold

      Actually right-to-carry isn’t in 38 states. It’s in 42. There are just 8 states like Massachusetts, where only the politically-connected can hope to get a license.

      • Steven C

        To be more specific. 38 States have a “SHALL ISSUE” concealed carry law. Meaning that if you pass a background check and complete the States required training then the State *must* issue you a license to carry. Other States have a “MAY ISSUE” law where the citizen must also get approval from the local Chief of Police or Sheriff after passing the test and background checks.

    • JamVee

      Absolutely correct FiftycalTX. But Boston doesn’t understand facts . . . It is Fiction that really “works for them”!

  • BigFED

    Over 90% of the “Gun Violence” is gang/drug dealer related!!! So a better analogy for this gun buy back is getting yourself castrated because the neighbors kids are demons!!!

    Just how STUPID does one have to be to NOT understand punishing and restricting the rights of good, law abiding citizens based on the evils of the few truly evil just is NOT the actions of a sane society!!!

  • Mike

    Gun buyback programs have been proven to be ineffective. They divert limited financial resources away from things that are proven to work. Which is better?
    A. Buy 200 guns for $200ea from people who would most likely never use them to commit a crime?
    B. Buy guns that were used in a crimes from gang bangers, with no questions asked, therefore detroying valuable evidence that might solve a crime?
    C. Invest $40,000 in manpower to actually solve a crime and get a criminal off of the streets.
    We as a society have limited fiancial resources. We should use them wisely and invest in “PROVEN” methods to reduce crime. Not in feel good ideas that “Perhaps may work this time”

  • FrancisMcManus

    Gun buy backs get 1-2% of illegal guns off the street. It’s a start.

    We need a more effective program to interrupt violence, and then teach the kids who have learned that violence is a good choice that there are other ways to resolve the issues.

    When issues like these happen in specific neighborhoods, you can work on it if you’re willing to staff the effort. When issues like this happen at the Stop and Sip in Florida, like between Michael Dunn and Jordan Davis, you’re much more hard pressed to interrupt the violence.

    • Steven C

      @McManus. First I must ask where the stat of “1-2% of illegal guns” originated? Does someone track the number of illegal guns separate from the legal guns? Assume your quote is accurate. What percentage of the guns bought back at any one time are illegal vs how many unused junk guns are turned in? Does this number make financial sense? Then of course there is the point in the original article which states that gun buyback programs do not reduce violence at all. Would it not be better to spend that money on programs that actually accomplish the intended goal of reducing crime?

  • Woodpiggie

    Much better investment to buy vasectomys for crackhead thugs whether they want them or not.

  • JamVee

    People gather up old junk firearms and haul them down to the “Buy-Back” to collect the cash. They even buy junk guns from local pawn shops and other such sources so they can make a few bucks by turning them in. Buy for $100 and sell for $200. 100 percent profit isn’t bad business.

  • Citywatch

    While I agree with the headline, the rest of this article is garbage. The police cannot lower the murder rate alone. The courts have to do their part and they don’t. The community has to do their part and they don’t. The author took a cheap shot at the forensic side of the police department citing how things were in 2002. Has he seen what has happened since then. Those units are widely known as the best and busiest in the region. Forensics is not always the key to solving a case. the author should stop watching television. He has taken a cheap shot at certain recent command staff selections without giving any of them time to actually make a difference. You would think that Boston is Murder City USA ,when it is not, just compare it to similar sized cities. It is easy to blame the problem on the police department, but that just shows a lack of knowledge and/or initiative to get the facts. I ask the author what he thinks should be done that is not being done. Just know that guns are not going away in our lifetime, better come up with another solution. Also know that the police are doing everything they can possibly do. Time for some help.

  • bobeker

    Citywatch, here is your answer. “In Boston’s case, with tragically low clearance rates for gun homicides and virtually non-existent clearance rates for non-fatal shootings, you get a proliferation of guns among the criminally minded, and an increased willingness to use them; and thus a level of gun violence that leads many ordinary people in certain neighborhoods to feel, quite rationally, that they need guns to protect themselves against it.”