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Can A Gun Buyback Program Stem Violence In Detroit?

Alarmed by new reports that show a marked increase in the chances that a young black man in Detroit will be murdered, the Detroit Police Department has initiated a gun buyback program designed to help get more firearms off the city's streets.

Police will pay from $25 for a gun that doesn't work to $50 for a gun that does to $100 for two or more guns. Cash will be handed out on the spot.

"We have to get guns out of circulation," Interim Detroit Police Chief Ralph Godbee Jr. said. "We don't know for sure what these guns would be used for, but we know they won't be used for crimes."

I've felt the anger and fear that living under the constant threat of gun violence can produce in young men, so I'm not against Godbee's suggestion or any other idea that will save these brothers' lives. But I still can't shake the feeling that this program will end up as little more than a giant symbolic placebo. Feels good to note it, sure. But will it do any real good in the city's streets? I have my doubts.

First off, gun buyback programs don't do jack to stop the steady flow of illegal firearms into cities like Detroit. Sure, the police may get ahold of a few weapons, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily taking them from the people most likely to use them in crimes. And it certainly doesn't stop those criminals from buying many more. As long as copping a gun in Detroit is as easy as buying a cheeseburger, buyback programs do little except create more room in the illegal firearms marketplace.

Secondly, criminals aren't really into turning in their guns, at least not the guns that work well. I mean, if you just used a gun to, say, shoot a liquor store clerk or a drug rival, chances are, you're not going to hand over incriminating evidence to the cops. Plus, to be quite frank, the average stick-up kid or drug enforcer can get a lot more than $50 out of a pistol if he's willing to "put in work." Even the Justice Department has said that guns obtained through buyback and turn-in programs are the least likely to have been involved in a crime, according to reports.

And even if a criminal gunman were so inclined to turn in his piece, does the DPD have any idea what the going rate is for a really good weapon on the streets? I mean, sure you may be able to buy some cheap Lorcin .380 from your local back-alley arms hustler for a few dollars, but the stuff that people might want to hold on to — say, an AK-47 assault rifle — is going to run you way more than that, even on the black market. If they're serious about buying back the criminals' guns, Chief Godbee and his men might want to sweeten the pot a bit.

All that said, though, I still hope the program yields positive results. I mean, even if a gun hasn't been used in a crime, that doesn't mean it won't be — or that it won't fall into the hands of a child and lead to even more horrifying results. So from that standpoint, certainly the buyback program has its merits. And if it's integrated into a broader set of policies and programs aimed at stemming violence among young men, then that's beautiful, too.

But a buyback program won't offset the social and economic ills plaguing Detroit, won't bring the jobs and training that these young men so desperately need. It won't dissolve the still-congealing subculture of violence that continues to plague places like my old eastside neighborhood and that have left the city's worst-off sections largely abandoned, destabilized and unable to recover. As my homie Carl Taylor told the Detroit News:

When he grew up in Detroit, Taylor said, his teachers were his neighbors, as were area businessmen. There were standards to meet and social rules to follow.

Not so today, he said: "In some neighborhoods, there is almost anarchy and no one wants to address that."

Taylor said public officials have to acknowledge the problem first. He said many leaders have been reluctant to talk about Detroit's murder problem because it's bad news few want to share. Then, they have to act.

"This is well out of control but it's been well out of control for some time," Taylor said. "If you don't do something, the facts I'm looking at, it's only going to get worse."

Yes, get the illegal guns off the streets. Spend what it takes to recover those guns, because it's way too easy to die in Detroit. But damn it, it's not just about "not dying." These young men deserve a better way to live, too. And this city, this state, this country should be willing to pay whatever price necessary to make that happen.

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  • 1

    I support this approach and all other novel ideas in regard to crime ..I would hope the DPD start hiring ex-convicts as police officers of course a complete redo of our penal code also is long over due..

    In the area of corrections instead of incarcation I would push for all drug offense sentences by folks under 25 should be served in the military...

    I am also an advocate for housing/boarding all urban students in rurual venues and providing for weekend visits from parents until the students enter high school...

    It is critical that we remove our youth from urban venues during their formative years..They need to be away for lousy parenting, destructive visual and physical enviorments, negative peers, educators with low expectations and the culture of the society that views Black youth as criminals and not worthy of humanity and assets to the nation.

    Just sayin......

    • 1.1

      Not that you need or seek my, or anyone elses approval, but that was an excellent post gthrasher. Very good ideas that would go much further toward improving lives than a gun buyback program.

    • 1.2

      What?!
      Let's start with this "I am also an advocate for housing/boarding all urban students in rurual venues and providing for weekend visits from parents until the students enter high school...It is critical that we remove our youth from urban venues during their formative years..They need to be away for lousy parenting, destructive visual and physical enviorments, negative peers, educators with low expectations" That is crazy! That will NOT work, this will just aid the continual move to the suburbs/rural areas by all people. How does running away from the issues ever solve anything??
      And then you bring in race about "the society that views Black youth as criminals and not worthy of humanity and assets to the nation." and I don't even know how to respond other than to say you are WRONG. You are creating/over-inflating a prejudice against yourself (as you have stated your race in other posts) and then whining about it. I hope that you will re-focus your energies in a more positive manner.

      The only thing I might say is that you are correct, Michigan's penal code does indeed need review.

  • 2

    Excellent writing, Mr. Dawsey. You points are valid. Everyone in the city deserves a better way to live - These young men especially.

    The state would rather lock them up than improve the conditions which would allow them a chance at a better life. It spends more on the back end (prison) than the front end (education, etc.). That has to change.

  • 3

    I agree with most of the points made by the author. My concern is that many of these guns could be used for home protection. I'm concerned that programs like these take advantage of law abiding citizens in need of cash and could cost more lives than they save. If more law abiding responsible people owned guns, criminals might think twice before comitting a crime.

    I think this money could be better spent on education and law enforcement programs and masks the real problems. I caught the last part of an interview today about the byback program on AM 950. The interviewee actually said somehting to the effect that elimating guns will eliminate crime. Guns don't kill people. It's the dumb ass pulling the trigger.

    This problem can only be fixed by changing this defective culture of crime and this can only happen if the people of detroit want it bad enough.

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