This summer Toronto ran another gun buy-back program. These programs allow people to surrender their firearms to the police in exchange for cash. Generally speaking, we believe that communities are safer when there are fewer guns, thus these programs are often viewed positively. But do gun amnesty programs really work?
We take a look at some of the main criticisms and support for gun amnesty programs to try and answers this question.
CRITICISMS OF GUN AMNESTY PROGRAMS
Police heralded this summer’s program as a success, collecting over 3,100 guns. While getting this many firearms off the street is impressive, the program is met with some criticisms. These question whether firearms offences are actually affected by the programs.
Gun buy-back programs do get unwanted guns out of garages and basements, but are they getting guns off the streets? Further, rarely are there any arrests related to these surrendered guns. Police check every gun they collect for involvement in ongoing and past investigations before destruction. However, rarely are any of these surrendered firearms linked or connected to active investigations.
Criminals Don’t Surrender Their Guns
Part of the reason that no connections are made might be that active criminals and gang members don’t surrender their firearms during amnesties. There isn’t enough incentive for them to do so.
If the weapon has been used in a crime, they know that surrendering it can lead to an arrest. Also, they have purchased these guns anywhere from $1500 to $2500, on average. They are more likely to sell the firearm to an associate rather than surrender it to the police.
As well, the process is not anonymous. Anyone actively involved in criminal activity is unwilling to give up their anonymity to try and get a couple of hundred dollars for a gun. The small cash incentive isn’t worth bringing yourself to the attention of police and being associated with firearms. This desire to remain anonymous does not only apply to those involved in criminal activities but to professionals that do not want their names and address associated with firearms during background and security checks.
Additionally, gun buy-back programs don’t let you just drop off your unwanted firearms. Instead, you schedule a time for the police to come and pick up the firearm. This puts off anyone who doesn’t want the police to come to their home, especially since the police may use the plain view doctrine to seize other evidence in the home.
The Wrong Kinds of Guns are Collected
A disproportionately high percentage of firearms offences in Toronto are committed with handguns. However, very few handguns are surrendered during buy-backs.
A majority of the firearms surrendered are broken, neglected and not in working condition. Others are so old that their resale value is lower than the buy-back value. It appears to be an opportunity to get rid of old, inherited rifles that are broken or unwanted.
SUPPORT FOR GUN AMNESTY & BUY-BACK PROGRAMS
Despite these criticisms, Toronto gun-back programs are successful in getting guns out of circulation. And even if the programs don’t lead to convictions, they do have a net benefit for the community. The net result is that there are fewer opportunities for these firearms to be used in crimes.
Keeping Guns of the Street
Although the surrendered guns typically don’t come from active criminals or gang members, amnesty programs do keep guns out of their hands.
Historically guns found in Canada’s black market were sourced from the USA. But now, one of the primary sources for illegal handguns is theft. People target homes with legally purchased firearms and rob them.
Guns Are Still Guns
The firearms that are most commonly associated with criminal activity are rarely turned over in these programs. But, just because the surrendered weapons aren’t as commonly involved in criminal activity, doesn’t take away their danger. Handguns aren’t the only guns that can kill.
Any firearm, even an old rifle passed down from the grandparents has the potential for serious injury or death. Prohibited and restricted weapons are not the only ones used in crimes.
Not Everyone Can Get Rid of Guns Legally
Amnesty programs are an important opportunity for people who can’t otherwise get rid of their firearms. If someone owns an unregistered firearm or doesn’t have a license, surrendering the weapon outside of the program could result in unauthorized possession charges. Not many people are willing to risk their own freedom to get rid of a weapon.
With these amnesty programs, the only reason charges will occur is if the firearm has been used in a criminal offence. Otherwise, this is essentially a “get out of jail free card.”
ANONYMOUS ALTERNATIVES TO GUN BUY-BACKS
Many of the criticisms over Toronto’s gun buy-back programs come down to the lack of anonymity. People do not want to surrender firearms if it might lead to repercussions for themselves or their loved ones.
A lack of good options can lead to people selling their illegal firearms on the black market or attempting to dispose of it. Either of these options will likely lead to the weapon making its way onto the streets.
Fortunately, there is another alternative to police amnesty programs. In Toronto, Piece Options is a free legal service that allows people to surrender their guns at any time. There is no police involvement, so the surrender is anonymous and there is no risk of criminal repercussions.
The program is run by Toronto criminal defence lawyers who are prohibited by law from revealing the identity of their clients. This allows them to facilitate the safe surrender and destruction of the firearm while protecting your identity.
This lawyer-lead program is a win-win. It helps to keep the most dangerous types of firearms off the street and protects the identity and liberty of people who surrender the firearms.
SURRENDER A FIREARM TO A TORONTO CRIMINAL DEFENCE LAWYER
If you’re interested in surrendering a firearm through the Piece Options program, do not bring the weapon to a lawyer’s office. Call ahead to arrange a safe, mutually agreeable, method for surrender.
William Jaksa is a Toronto criminal defence lawyer who is directly involved in the Piece Options program. If you wish to surrender a firearm, he will help protect you and your interests throughout the process. Contact Jaksa to arrange a surrender plan.