Boston, Mass., is having a very violent summer. Homicides are slightly down, but non-fatal shootings are up 43 percent over last year, according to the Boston Herald newspaper. The answer, at least according to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, is another “gun buyback” program. The mayor recently held a press conference touting the compensated confiscation program and advising residents to call police to report a gun in the home. “We’ll come pick it up,” the mayor said.
Actually, it’s not quite accurate to call this “another” anti-gun initiative. This is actually the continuation of a program launched with $100,000 in funding last year. Boston police took in more than 400 firearms last year, but according to the Herald they’ve only collected a single firearm in 2015. Mayor Walsh’s announcement about the renewed “buyback” shows where these programs’ importance really lies. They’re good for the politician who needs to show that they’re “doing something” to reduce violent crime, but that’s about it. Good for reducing crime? Not so much.
Back in the mid 1990s, the city witnessed what was known as the “Boston Miracle,” part of a nationwide drop in violent crime. Boston’s crime decline is widely credited to the work done by researchers like David Kennedy. He and others created the tactic of focusing law-enforcement resources on the small number of violent criminals responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime. They’re generally known to cops and the community, they generally already have criminal records, and they usually are the focus for violent activity in any given neighborhood.
Once police have focused on those “worst of the worst” offenders, the consequences of breaking the law must be, in the words of one Boston Globe editorial on the strategy, “clear, quick, credible consequences.” No plea bargains. No parole. No revolving door of justice. Just a prison door slamming shut for a long time.
If the offenders stop offending, then there’s help for them to turn their life around. It may be job training, mentorships, educational opportunities (some cities are even experimenting with cash stipends for individuals who don’t break the law), but the help is real. Not everyone will accept the offer. For those that insist on breaking the law, though, the consequences are real, and they are swift.
If Boston wants to reduce its violent crime, city officials should quit with the sound-bite solutions like a “gun buyback,” quit targeting law-abiding gun owners with another round of anti-gun legislation and instead get back to the hard work of going after violent criminals. It’s better than just “doing something”—it’s doing something that works.