The New Jersey Attorney General's Office held three gun buybacks in July, offering on-the-spot payments that resulted in the removal of nearly 5,000 guns from the streets of Camden, Trenton, and Newark.
The two-day event set a record for the number of guns seized in one year by state law enforcement. But although any gun removed from the street or a home is a welcome step, studies show buybacks have only a modest impact on gun violence.
More than 27 million guns were sold in the United States last year, according to FBI background check data. That was a record, but it doesn't even include the many firearms sold privately. Overall, there are more than 300 million guns in this country, roughly twice as many guns per capita as there were in 1968, according to the Congressional Research Service.
The buyback program is just one measure used to limit the access to guns in New Jersey. Pennsylvania should pay attention to its neighboring state, which, along with California and Connecticut, has some of the strictest and most common-sense gun laws in the country.
Perhaps the greatest value of any gun buyback program is promoting public awareness. The Antioch Baptist Church in Camden served as one of the buyback locations, as did churches in Trenton and Newark. The program provided a good platform for church officials to talk about steps the public can take to help reduce shootings and gang violence.
Raising public awareness is a worthy effort given that gunshots are the second leading cause of injury-related deaths in children after car accidents. Reducing the number of guns in homes may prevent a shooting tragedy.
In New Jersey's buyback program, residents were paid cash for any gun they turned in — no questions asked. The payments ranged from $100 for a shotgun or rifle to $120 for a handgun or revolver and $200 for an assault weapon.
The state paid out a total of $481,620 for the nearly 5,000 guns purchased, but that money came from funds confiscated in criminal prosecutions. All the confiscated guns will be destroyed.
Philadelphia, which averages one shooting every six hours, has been stymied by the legislature in trying to reduce easy access to guns. But it can do more to raise public awareness. Homicides in the city have increased 20 percent thus far this year as compared with the same period in 2016. Most of the killings were caused by gunshots.
Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg beholden to the National Rifle Association are unlikely to provide any help in the way of tougher gun laws. But the city can increase public education campaigns, target police patrols to violent neighborhoods, and create more effective intervention programs.
Gun buyback programs are a good idea, too. They are not a cure-all, but they can be a good part of much-needed broader attempts to reduce gun violence.