City packs heat with little impact

Gun buyback nets 126 broken weapons, 227 handguns, 117 rifles and shotguns

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/1/2022, 6 p.m.
City Hall touted Richmond’s first gun buyback program as an “overwhelming success” despite evidence that the event is unlikely to …

City Hall touted Richmond’s first gun buyback program as an “overwhelming success” despite evidence that the event is unlikely to have any impact on violence or gun ownership.

The city paid out the available $67,500 in gift cards to 160 people who turned in 475 firearms and had to turn away others still waiting in line.

The buyback program proved “that Richmond residents have a desire to change the city’s gun violence narrative,” Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s administration stated in a post-event release.

According to the statement from the Stoney administration, the Aug. 20 initiative had three goals: “To reduce the availability of guns in the community, to provide for the safe disposal of firearms and to mobilize residents, raise awareness and shift the culture.”

However, research developed from other cities that have held gun buybacks in the past 30 years shows the initiative that originated in Baltimore has no impact.

Just as importantly, the event did not even make a ripple in gun ownership in Richmond.

While there is no census of gun owners nor any exact count of the guns in private hands, estimates based on various data sources suggest that one-third of the city’s households own at least one firearm and that the collective total tops 100,000 weapons.

And that doesn’t count the illegal weapons.

As one observer put it, “It was like scooping a cup of sand from the beach and suggesting that no more sandcastles could be built.”

The weapons were collected from those who drove into the huge parking lot of Liberation Church in South Side to turn them over to police.

The city reported that the weapons included 126 that were broken and inoperable, representing 26 percent of the total. The other firearms included five assault rifles, 227 handguns and 117 rifles and shotguns.

Observers noted most of the guns are not the kind of firearms that show up at crime scenes.

Along with the church, the city teamed with the Robby Poblete Foundation, named for a 23-year-old who was gunned down in Vallejo, Calif., in 2014. The foundation, created and led by his mother, Pati Navalta, only has conducted four other gun buybacks since its formation eight years ago, according to the foundation’s website. Before Richmond, the foundation had collected less than 1,400 guns, with more than 700 coming from a 2018 buyback program in San Francisco.

The administration, in its statement, acknowledged that “gun violence, including domestic violence, homicides, and suicides, cannot be eradicated with one initiative or program.”

There was no suggestion that the administration would try another.

Instead, the city noted that it had committed $1.5 million from a federal grant to gun violence prevention, with $1 million earmarked to Nextup RVA and other nonprofits to provide positive programming for city youths.

The remaining $500,000 is set aside for gun buybacks and public education, with a stress on public education about gun violence.