Editorial | Changing Hearts, Not Guns

April 25, 2013 

If the example of similar local events in the past few years holds true, we can expect a little over 100 guns to be turned in Saturday during the Stop the Violence Peace Festival and gun buy-back in Conway.

Will this make an enormous dent in violence in our communities? We doubt it. Turn in 100 guns and there are thousands upon thousands more left in Horry County. National estimates put the number of guns in the United States around 300 million, or about one for every man, woman and child in the country. Most of those are owned by law-abiding citizens. Some aren’t. But one event in Conway won’t do much to change those numbers.

A recent paper on the efficacy of gun violence efforts by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency concluded that buy-back events did little to stem violence. “Because of the small percentage of guns collected, and the characteristics of guns and participants involved in the programs, many buy-back programs are unlikely to have more than a negligible effect on gun-related crime,” the authors wrote.

An older research study on the impact of a buy-back event in Seattle came to much the same conclusion, finding “no statistically significant change” between firearm violence rates before and after the city’s buy-back.

It’s an issue that deserves attention. Myrtle Beach saw its violent crime rate go up in 2012. And in 2011, the most recent full year of statistics available for Horry County from the FBI, violent crime numbers were also higher than in the immediately previous years.

But most guns turned in during buy-back events are not weapons at high risk of being used in crimes. Instead, the events are often used by residents as an easy, safe way to get rid of unwanted weapons (and get some token payment in return). Many of the people who turn guns in on Saturday will have other weapons at home. Some may even use the compensation they receive to help finance a newer or better weapon.

That’s not to say there’s no benefit to the event. Those who turn in their guns may be reducing their own risk, as studies have found a correlation between suicide and homicide rates and gun ownership. And fewer unwanted guns do mean fewer guns for criminals to steal or children to play with. But for the community as a whole to see a marked difference in gun violence, the scale of the buy-back would have to be much larger (to the point of becoming impractical).

Nevertheless, Saturday’s event is worthwhile, and it’s about much more than just buying guns. At the risk of sounding overly sanguine, what makes events like Saturday’s important is not the number of guns turned in, but the community spirit generated. The festival will bring together community members concerned about violence in our area to hear guest speakers, learn about gun safety and coalesce a network of residents willing to work together to address the area’s naggingly high crime rates. That heightened public awareness and willingness by everyday citizens to take action can play a much larger role in violence prevention than getting guns off the street. And that’s where its real potential for success lies.

Other initiatives have also begun, including a town hall forum on violence put on earlier this month by the Myrtle Beach branch of the NAACP, and a planned community conversation on violence being organized by local activist Bennie Swans. All are worthy efforts and each can help. Curbing violent crime is not a problem with an easy solution. It will take dedicated action by not only local leaders and law enforcement but also buy-in from community members willing to strike back and speak up. Saturday’s peace festival is another avenue that can help achieve that goal.

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