ANDERSON – A large bronze caldron filled with shotguns, assault rifles, handguns and knives greets visitors in the Anderson Police Department lobby.
The melted and mutilated weapons that were recovered from local crime scenes are part of an art project commissioned two decades ago by the city and cast by local artist-sculptor Kenneth Ryden. The display symbolizes the need to destroy implements of destruction before they are used.
But Madison County law enforcement officials today question the effectiveness of programs such as the church-sponsored gun buyback in Crawfordsville where just five weapons were recovered recently.
“I think they might be somewhat, but not substantially, effective,” Sheriff Scott Mellinger said.
For one, criminals are almost never the ones turning in their weapons.
“People who have broken-down or old guns … or those who just don’t want them in the house anymore might turn them in,” he said. “However, typically those wouldn’t be the people committing crimes.”
Academic researchers agree.
A 2002 study published in Injury Prevention, a peer-reviewed journal, found firearms “recovered in buyback programs differed substantially from those used in homicides and suicides.
According to the paper’s authors, guns turned in during buybacks differ in their style, caliber and manufacturer from those used in violent crimes and suicides. According to the study, 75 percent of handguns purchased at gun buybacks are small caliber, but those types of weapons are used in less than a quarter of gun homicides and less than a third of gun suicides.
A 2007 Harvard Injury Control Research Center study looking at the efficacy of violence reduction programs found three reasons that gun buyback programs are ineffective: The buybacks are relatively small in scale; guns are surrendered voluntarily, and therefore are unlikely to be used in crime; and replacement guns are easy to obtain.
Mellinger could think of only one possible case where a buyback could directly stop a crime.
On an outside chance, he said, a crime might be prevented if someone’s house were broken into and the gun was stolen and used in another crime.