Gun violence remains a leading cause of death in the United States. Community gun buyback programs provide an opportunity to dispose of extraneous firearms. The purpose of this study was to understand the demographics, motivation, child access to firearms, and household mental illness of buyback participants in hopes of improving the program’s effectiveness.
A 2015 Injury Free Coalition for Kids gun buyback program which collaborated with local police departments was studied. We administered a 23-item questionnaire survey to gun buyback participants assessing demographic characteristics, motivation for relinquishing firearms, child firearm accessibility, and mental illness/domestic violence history.
A total of 186 individuals from Central/Western Massachusetts turned in 339 weapons. Participants received between US $25 and US $75 in gift cards dependent on what type of gun was turned in, with an average cost of $41/gun. A total of 109 (59%) participants completed the survey. Respondents were mostly white (99%), men (90%) and first-time participants in the program (85.2%). Among survey respondents, 54% turned in firearms “for safety reasons.” Respondents reported no longer needing/wanting their weapons (47%) and approximately one in eight participants were concerned the firearm(s) were accessible to children. Most respondents (87%) felt the program encouraged neighborhood awareness of firearm safety. Three of every five participants reported that guns still remained in their homes; additionally, 21% where children could potentially access them and 14% with a history of mental illness/suicide/domestic violence in the home.
Gun buybacks can provide a low-cost means of removing unwanted firearms from the community. Most participants felt their homes were safer after turning in the firearm(s). In homes still possessing guns, emphasis on secure gun storage should continue, increasing the safety of children and families. The results of this survey also provided new insights into the association between mental illness/suicide and gun ownership.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE
Epidemiological, level III.