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Gun Buyback Programs

Program Title:

Gun Buyback Programs

Program Blurb:

Gun buyback programs typically involve paying (i.e., money, gift cards) individuals to turn in guns they possess without their identification or maintaining records of who turned them in. After this, the recovered firearms are destroyed. Such programs are implemented with the hopes of curtailing gun-related harms (i.e., crime and violence) by reducing the availability of guns by removing them from circulation.

Is the program based on research?


This program does not appear to be based on research. It is a popular program, but it has been criticized because of a lack of research evidence to measure its effectiveness, its impact on gun-related harms, and whom it is actually attracting (i.e., failing to attract guns used in crime). Additionally, the usefulness of such programs is questioned due to the small percentage of guns that are typically recovered relative to the number already in the community.

Has the program been independently evaluated?


A few studies have assessed this program in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. However, their findings have been mixed, with some indicating that these programs reduce gun-related harms, whereas others did/could not conclude this but instead report that it is one of the least effective ways to reduce such harms.

Was the program rigorously tested?


Gun buyback programs have not been rigorously tested (i.e., quasi-experiment, randomized control trial, etc.).

Has the program evaluation been replicated?


No studies have been located.

Was the program tested in Canada?


Despite gun buyback programs being implemented in several Canadian police services, no Canadian evaluations of such programs were located.


Due to the lack of replicated evaluative research, and variance in findings of those programs studied, one cannot say gun buyback programs help reduce gun-related harms. Other goals, such as educating communities and providing safe-disposal opportunities, have been offered as ways in which these programs can be useful, but it is important to note that these have also not been evaluated. Therefore, there is no empirical evidence to suggest gun buybacks should be implemented and are effective.

Additional comment from our Reviewer: citing Sherman et al. (1998), he similarly observed:

​"The scientific rigor of the buyback evaluations is not great.  They can be summarized as providing moderate evidence of no effect.  They fail to show effects on gun crimes relative to a comparison of trends in the same types of crimes committed without guns.  Given their high cost and weak theoretical rationale, however, there seems little reason to invest in further testing of the idea."

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Assessor: Lorna Ferguson, University of Western Ontario

Lorna Ferguson is a Ph.D. student in the Sociology department at the University of Western Ontario, and the C.O.O. and Research Associate for Can-SEBP. Lorna has a broad interest in policing research and developing evidence-based approaches to policing and crime prevention, including issues related to firearms and social media use. Her most recent work looks at police responses to missing persons cases.

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Reviewer: Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe, Temple University

Dr. Jerry Ratcliffe is a Professor of Criminal Justice at Temple University. A former British police officer, he is also a consultant, researcher, member of the FBI Law Enforcement Education and Training Council, research advisor to the FBI and Philadelphia Police Commissioner and host of the Reducing Crime podcast. His work focuses on evidence-based policing, and he works with police agencies around the world on crime reduction and criminal intelligence strategy. He has published over 90 research articles and nine books, including most recently “Reducing Crime: A Companion for Police Leaders”.

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