Gun buybacks reduce accidental shootings, experts say

Gun buybacks may not be a solution to really make a dent in violent crime, but they can have an impact on another problem, accidental shootings. Those deadly tragedies are on the decline according to experts, and we’re putting the reasons why In Focus. 

Shotguns and handguns stacked along a stage in a Prince George’s County church were the haul for a buyback that offered people a holiday gift in exchange for a gun back in December.  Weapons belonging to Jeannette Montgomery were among the collection.

"I think this is great to get something back for them and get some of these things off the street,” Montgomery said.

The Prince George’s buyback pulled 160 firearms off the street, with a parade of participants lining up to empty their cars, their closets and their consciences.

"If somebody found those guns,” Montgomery said, “I would feel responsible if something happened to someone."

A feeling of responsibility is the reason some people turn over their guns in buybacks. Many of those events are billed as a way to help the community cut crime, but research shows gun buybacks don't bring in the kinds of weapons typically involved in violent crime.

SEE: Gun buybacks not effective for curbing violence

ABC2 Investigators found proof of the same thing, obtaining lists of every gun seized in Baltimore area buybacks in the last few years.  The vast majority of weapons turned over were revolvers and shotguns.  Jon Vernick with Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research says those weapons are not generally a violent criminal's gun of choice, "It's the newer high caliber weapons that tend to be the high risk weapons."

But while experts say buybacks don't cut crime, they can help lower the risk of something else.

"If a gun is unwanted and therefore removed from the home it's less likely to be involved in an accidental death,” Vernick said.

Accidental deaths are happening less often.  National research shows the statistics have dropped drastically in recent years, from about 2000 in the late 80's to 600 in 2010.  It's hard to get an exact count on where Maryland stands though. 

Maryland State Police collect accidental shooting data from local police departments, but they wouldn't release it to us, calling the numbers “unreliable.”  Center of Disease Control stats show at least 46 Marylanders have died from accidental shootings in the last decade.

"They're so preventable through a variety of different approaches," Vernick said.

One approach he points to is the introduction of so-called CAP laws, also known as child access prevention laws. Maryland is one of only 18 states that have them.

Vernick says they can make a difference.

"It's the kind of law that ought to make common sense,” he said. “It's not taking anyone's gun away; it's not saying you can't bring a gun into your home.  It's just saying if you do you have an obligation not only to your family but to your neighbor's family and the community that it's stored safely."

SEE: Agencies vary in classifications of accidental shootings

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