Houston council approves $539,000 for future gun buyback programs, research shows it doesn’t deter gun crime

On Wednesday, the council voted on a $539,000 federal grant to Blackhawk Network Inc. to purchase gift cards for future gun buyback programs.

HOUSTON – In July, Houston police collected nearly 800 firearms during the first buyback program.

The city gave out $94,000 in gift cards, paid through federal grants from the American Rescue Plan.

On Wednesday, the council voted on a $539,000 federal grant to Blackhawk Network Inc. to purchase gift cards for future gun buyback programs.

Council Member Tiffany Thomas told KPRC 2′s Rilwan Balogun the next event will be in District F. She supported the Wednesday vote. She said gun buyback programs are tools the city needs to use to reduce gun violence.

“Trust me, there are things that our law enforcement community does need,” said at-large council member Mike Knox. “The 530,000 will be better spent on things that would actually impact crime.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner said gun buyback programs, in addition to having more officers on the street and updating technology, among others, will help cut crime.

“It’s based on all of these components working in tandem with one another, and when that happens, you do have a safer city,” Turner said. “One Safe Houston is costing $53 million. All of these are federal dollars that we are using to create a much safer city.”

A 2021 National Bureau of Economic Research study looked at hundreds of similar programs between 1991 and 2015, researchers found no evidence buyback programs deter gun crimes.

“The precision of our estimates is such that, with 95 percent confidence, we can rule out decreases in the gun crime of 1.3% in the 12 months following a GBP and 2.3% a year or more after a GBP,” researchers wrote.

“I unequivocally believe that,” said Greg Fremin, criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University and a retired Houston Police Captain. “Don’t get me wrong, it is still a great thing. It still has a utility that we are taking weapons off the street. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of illegal weapons that float out on the street, so it does have an effect, but there are still a lot more weapons out there.”

Fremin said buyback programs are removing potential threats firearms could be used in crimes.

“This is a gun that’s not being passed around from hand to hand, it’s not going from one gang to another. It’s taking them off the streets, off the hands of these criminals,” said Fremin.

Researchers for the 2021 study wrote, “our findings provide compelling evidence that [gun buybacks] held over the last three decades have done little to reduce gun crime or firearm-related violence.”

Mayor Turner said he agrees gun buybacks are ineffective alone.

“None of the programs are effective if you’re looking at them by themselves,” Turner said. “So, when you add the gun buyback program with more police on the ground, with technology, with crisis intervention with community engagement, with re-entry program, with our youth initiatives, than collaboratively in tandem the city is safer.”

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