Steve Chapman
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If you've got some clothes you don't need anymore, you can give them to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. If you have an old car, you can call various organizations to take it away. And if you're in Chicago and have a gun that's burning a hole in your pocket, you can get rid of it on Saturday, no questions asked.

 

The city government has a great fondness for gun turn-in events. It's done six of them in the past six years, collecting more than 23,000 weapons. This one will be held at 23 churches, and anyone handing over a firearm will get a $100 gift card. The guns will then be destroyed.

The motive behind these efforts is not hard to understand in a place that had 433 murders last year and has seen a spike this year. Dozens of shootings take place in Chicago every week.

Two years ago, explaining the effort, then-Mayor Richard Daley said, "We have just too many guns in our society. When someone has access to a gun, they use it." The gun buyback is a way "we can reduce the number of guns on our streets," says Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

But don't put too much stock in those pronouncements. The number of privately owned guns in America keeps rising, and at last count it totaled 270 million, or about one for every adult. But nationally, the homicide rate has fallen by more than half over the past two decades.

Contrary to Daley, most people who own guns never use them for anything but legal purposes (hunting, target shooting, self-defense). Contrary to Emanuel, the weapons this sort of venture yields are probably not the ones carried in the streets or the ones used in crimes. The reduction also represents a minuscule share of the firearms in the city, which may number over a million.

Think about it: Who is most likely to turn in a firearm for a $100 reward? Someone with 1) a cheap gun and 2) no criminal propensity -- say, Aunt Millie disposing of a rusty revolver her late husband left in the nightstand.

Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck noted in a 1996 book that when St. Louis did a gun buyback, those participating "were commonly middle-aged and 80 percent white, while those involved in gun violence in that city were mostly young and black."

Criminals will have trouble finding any appeal in this offer. In the first place, their weapons may have cost far more than $100, as handguns and long guns of good quality usually do.

In the second place, thugs practice a trade in which a weapon is essential for doing business. A pistol used in the course of armed robberies will pay for itself many times over. A $100 gift card won't.

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Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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