N.J. hosting four gun buybacks this weekend across the state

While there is limited evidence they help prevent shootings, N.J.’s acting attorney general says the buyback events are part of a broader strategy to address gun violence.

In January 2013, residents turned in more than 2,600 weapons for cash payments in Trenton. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

In January 2013, residents turned in more than 2,600 weapons for cash payments in Trenton. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

The New Jersey Attorney General’s office will host gun buybacks in four cities on Saturday as the state sees a rise in gun violence.

While there is limited evidence that paying people to take their weapons helps prevent shootings, buybacks are a frequent tool used by law enforcement and public officials.

New Jersey’s new Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck said it’s part of an overall strategy for addressing shootings, which also includes holding perpetrators of gun violence accountable and keeping dangerous weapons away from people likely to use guns for crime.

Harkening back to the start of his legal career prosecuting gang-related crimes, Bruck said he recognized that prosecution alone cannot end gun violence, which soared during the worst of the pandemic.

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“We need to take an all-of-the-above approach if we’re going to get gun violence under control in this country and in this state,” Bruck said.

The events will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Atlantic City, East Orange, Paterson, and Newark.

“It’s no surprise that we’ve heard from a lot of other communities, including Trenton, that they’re interested in doing something similar,” Bruck said.

Anyone turning in a gun will be paid $25 if it’s an inoperable firearm or BB gun, up to $250 for assault weapons. So-called ghost guns will be accepted as well.

“We think those guns are particularly dangerous weapons and we would love to see as many of them off the streets as possible,” Bruck said, adding the state is willing to buy any type of firearm that people are willing to turn in, no questions asked.

Gun buybacks began in the late 1960s, with Philadelphia being among the first cities to try them in 1968. At one point in the 1990s, more than 100 buyback programs were operating across the country.

Recent research suggests that gun buybacks alone do not work to prevent shootings. Authors of an article in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery from 2014 concluded that gun buyback programs are “solely one prong of a multipronged approach in reducing firearm-based interpersonal violence.”

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“Through the forging of relationships and enhancement of firearm knowledge among medical, law enforcement, judicial, and school communities, the prevention of intentional and unintentional firearm-related injuries will be able to be managed more effectively,” they wrote, adding that more research was needed to “determine effective methods to target individuals who would have the greatest impact on gun violence if they relinquished their weapons.”

Other experts say there’s no evidence that buyback programs do anything meaningful for public safety.

David Kennedy, criminal justice professor and executive director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College, said the guns that tend to be turned in are not the type that are used to commit crimes.

“The guns that get turned in tend to be extremely old,” he said. “They’re often obsolete. They’re types of guns that are not much in favor on the street anymore.”

Kennedy said providing people a way to get rid of unwanted guns is an important public service, but it “essentially” has no crime control value. People often turn them in and use the money to buy another gun, he said. One example of that is of a 2018 buyback event in Baltimore, where a woman turning in a 9 mm handgun, said she was going to use the money to “upgrade to a better weapon.”

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