Temitope Oriola: Buying back guns an avenue to reduce violent crime

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On March 12, 2022, one person was killed and six others were injured in a shooting incident in north Edmonton. Roughly 24 hours later, notorious Edmonton landlord, Abdullah Shah (aka Carmen Pervez) was shot dead in front of his home in south Edmonton. While the Edmonton Police Service states that the two incidents were unrelated, they signpost a worrying gun violence trend.

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there were 150 and 158 shooting incidents in Edmonton in 2021 and 2020, respectively. Most of the shootings were “targeted.” Eric Stewart from the EPS notes that “The brazenness of these shootings is definitely… escalating. And why that trend is happening, we can’t tell you. But it’s definitely concerning to all of us … . We are definitely seeing a generation of people who aren’t afraid to go into a public place, all hours of the day, in a community, and fire a gun.”

Statistics Canada’s Homicide in Canada, 2020 report indicates that there were 743 homicides in 2020, which surpassed the 2019 figure by 56 homicides. Alberta features prominently in these numbers. The report states that the “increase in the national number of homicides was the result of more victims in Alberta (plus 39) and Nova Scotia (plus 29).” The Nova Scotia number was a direct effect of a mass-shooting in which 22 people were killed.

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Gun violence is costly. One study demonstrates that crimes related to gun violence cost Canadians $3.1 billion a year. That report was published in 2012. This was the equivalent of $93 per person in Canada. The costs are borne by victims, the justice system, health care and the entire society.

It is time to consider a gun buyback program given the rise in gun violence and its price tag for victims and society. I noted in a CTV Edmonton interview that the idea was something that multiple jurisdictions across North America had deployed in the past. My recommendation then and now is a no-questions-asked, robust, well-calibrated, targeted approach that mops up guns from people who should not have them.

An EPS spokesperson in response to my CTV interview argued “Most of the firearms responsible for the crime on Edmonton streets are obtained and possessed illegally. Those using them for ill intent may not be inclined to co-operate with a voluntary program, such as a gun buy-back.” The second part of the statement is utterly misleading. Empirical evidence suggests otherwise.

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Gun buyback programs have been used since at least the 1970s. Australia implemented a series of measures, including a gun buyback program, following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996 in which 35 people were killed and 23 were wounded. The program collected more than 650,000 guns.

Do gun buyback programs work? One study finds that “Gun buybacks are a cost-effective means to reduce the number of unwanted firearms in the general public and also provide a means for education regarding injury prevention. Buybacks in conjunction with other methods have been shown to be successful in reducing the number of firearms that could lead to injury and death.”

As you read this, the City of Philadelphia has a gun buyback program scheduled for April 23, 2022. On the question of whether gun buyback programs actually help to reduce violence, the City of Philadelphia notes that “gun buybacks should be included as part of a broad array of violence reduction strategies.”

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One gun off the street may be a lifesaver. A gun buyback program will not totally eradicate gun violence but it takes off the streets a level of firepower available in the wrong hands. Such a program may go in tandem with intelligence gathering regarding criminal gangs who are targeting one another openly on the streets.

However, such efforts need to be augmented with public awareness about the dangers of citizens buying guns for sale to criminals. To be effective, structural problems, such as poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, childhood neglect, substance abuse issues, et cetera, creating conditions conducive to violence, need to be tackled. We should explore all avenues for reducing violence in society.

Temitope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @topeoriola

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