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Aurora plans gun buyback program as youth violence rises, but data shows buybacks are ineffective

Aurora youth violence
Posted at 5:55 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 11:09:21-05

AURORA — DENVER — Two Denver and Aurora city council members are teaming up to host a series of gun buyback events in the wake of a string of recent youth violence.

Aurora city councilman Curtis Gardner and Denver city councilwoman Amanda Sawyer recently announced that they will be partnering with RAWtools, a Colorado-Springs-based nonprofit, to hold eight buyback events.

Gardner and Sawyer had been discussing the idea of a gun buyback for several months but announced it on Nov. 22.

“We haven’t done something like this before, but I think the events of the last couple of weeks demonstrate that we do need to look at some new programs,” Gardner said.

Residents will be able to attend any one of the buyback events and anonymously turn in a firearm. The serial number will be run to see whether the gun was involved in any crimes.

It will then be immediately destroyed and turned into gardening tools.

The city of Aurora hosted a community town hall last month to discuss the continuing violence.

“It’s sad because people from the outside, they see these incidents happening and they think while that’s what Aurora is,” Gardner said.

Something he heard loud and clear from that town hall was that residents feel like they need to have guns to defend themselves but don’t necessarily want them and don’t know where to take them to get rid of them.

Sharletta Evans hopes the gun buyback programs will help curb some of the violence Aurora has experienced as of late.

“We want to set the atmosphere in the mindset that you can rid yourself of the gun. I look at it as a safety precaution,” Evans said.

Evans is a member of the Colorado Crime Survivors Network and knows firsthand how quickly a gun can change someone’s life.

Evans lost her 3-year-old son, Casson Xavier, in a drive-by shooting in 1995. Of the 21 bullets that were fired, 14 hit her car.

She says it’s heartbreaking that the city is experiencing the latest uptick in violence and there are underlying reasons in the community that need to be addressed.

“We as mothers who lost children to violence, I can say we’re angry. We are angry and we are hurting,” she said.

However, national data shows gun buyback programs are not effective in curbing violence.

A report released earlier this year by the National Bureau of Economic Research found no evidence that these programs reduce gun crime or lower the homicide or suicide rate in the nation.

“Literature on gun surrender programs is 100% con in that they do no good at all, and in fact, the more recent research indicates they’re dangerous in the short term,” said David Kopel, an adjunct constitutional law professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Colorado’s laws around gun buybacks are also complicated ever since a background check law passed in 2013, which made it illegal for a person who is not a licensed gun dealer to receive a firearm from someone else.

“It would be completely illegal for a church or some community group to set up a program for people to give their guns to someone of the church,” Kopel said.

As a result, many areas around the state have not hosted a buyback program in years.

RAWtools says they have federal approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and state approval.

The group disables the firearms before the donor leaves the premises, so the donor hasn’t transferred a firearm to RAWtools but a series of broken gun parts.

Beyond the legal complications and effectiveness of the programs, gun sales are also on the rise in Colorado. In 2020, data from the Colorado Bureau of Investigations found that 487,097 guns were sold in the state.

That was a sharp increase from previous years. Already this year, 365,744 guns were sold in Colorado as of October.

“The number of guns that typically get surrendered and these programs might be a few dozen, might be a few hundred,” Kopel said. “That’s still a tiny drop in the bucket in terms of the overall firearms supply.”

Gardner recognizes that criminals are not the ones who are going to be the ones turning in the guns, but he says the data shows many guns used in crimes are stolen, so the more unused guns that are turned in, the better.

“I think legally responsible gun ownership is a good thing. I think really what we’re targeting is those folks who don’t have the capability to properly store their firearms,” he said. “We’re really targeting the guns that are going to be stolen to be used in crimes later.”

Gardner doesn’t believe Aurora’s city council can solve the issue of gun violence on its own, so he considers the buyback one tool in the equation.

Along with that, he wants the city to focus on providing more youth and mental health services.

As for Evans, she believes the program has the potential to be effective so long as the gun donors can remain anonymous, and the owners know they won’t get in trouble for turning them in.

She says the success of the program will depend on how well the donors can trust the community members involved in running it. Evans knows there’s no way these programs will be able to keep up with all of the guns sold in the state each year, but she’s hoping the transformation of these weapons can help serve as a symbol to break the cycle.

Four of the events will take place in Denver and the other four will take place in Aurora.

The buyback events are scheduled for March, though the exact dates will be announced in January.