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Tampa police say gun buyback event was 'more successful' than predicted: Do they really work?

People were paid $100 each.

TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Police Department says it already is working on another gun buyback program.

Over the weekend, the department handed out $100,000, collecting more than 1,000 weapons in just four hours. From TPD's perspective, the event was a big success.

But there are questions about the effectiveness of gun buyback programs.

“It was more successful than we originally thought,” Tampa Police Capt. Travis Maus said. Even the department was surprised at just how many people turned out for TPD's first gun buyback program since 2015.

Long lines at two locations often resembled a COVID-19 test site, with some people waiting in line for well over an hour.

“Sometimes people leave guns in their house or in their car. They don’t even know their head they are half the time. Someone can come in and take it. They can injure themselves. It can be used as a crime gun later on,” said Deputy Chief Michael Hutner said. “And that’s just what we’re trying to prevent.”

The department used $100,000 of anonymously donated cash — not tax money — to pay $100 per weapon. No questions asked. In just four hours, the money had been depleted and some people were being turned away.

“If you were not able to turn in your firearms, you know, your unwanted firearms, then, by all means, keep them secure and then we’ll make sure that we push out the information out the next time we do another one,” Maus said.

“We don’t want these guns to get into the hands of the wrong person,” Hutner added.

Despite the perceived success, an extensive study published in 2021 measuring the effectiveness of gun buyback programs concluded they don’t statistically reduce violent crime or firearm-related suicides.

Further, the study found that other policies, like safe storage laws or stricter background checks, would be more effective.

“Statistically, yes, it doesn’t show a decline in violent crime, however, I think it’s unquantifiable,” Maus said.

The department still considers buyback programs a success because they say they’re helping people safely dispose of guns they don’t want. A little cash for the cache doesn’t hurt, either.

“We talked to people in their cars and some people said, yeah, gas is expensive, and this is an easy way to get, you know, $100 per gun,” Maus said.

Given the response to the gun buyback program, TPD is already working on another one, which will likely take place toward the end of this year or early 2023. The 1,002 weapons collected this time, they say, will be shipped to a location in Jacksonville where they will be properly destroyed.

TPD says some folks tried to pass off realistic-looking BB guns and air rifles, but they had weapons experts on-hand that were able to tell the difference.

Next time, they say, they might limit how many guns each person can trade in so more people have a chance to participate.

“Irrelevant to what the statistics might say, the citizens wanted this,” Maus said. “They wanted an opportunity to get rid of their unwanted firearms, and we provided that service.”

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