The Smoking Guns

In Rhode Island, two crime-ridden cities are implementing a self-destructive policy

One could write a series of very long books about bad public policy, and, unfortunately, it would require annual updates. The following should be Chapter One of the 2020 volume.

The Rhode Island cities of Providence and Central Falls, both of which struggle with violent crime, are about to institute a joint gun buyback program that is so lacking in logic and reason that it might just set the standard for bad government.

To be sure, the cities need to take action to curb an increase in violence over the last three months in the already troubled cities. The situation in Providence has been described as “exacerbating.” Take for example a recent report from the Boston Globe’s Amanda Milkovits:

“Providence is already seeing more homicides than in previous years. A man was shot and killed in Smith Hill Thursday night, making him the 13th homicide in the city this year, and the eighth in eight weeks. He also had the unwelcome distinction of being the third person shot within an hour Thursday. Police are investigating the shooting of another man who was in a car with the first victim, as well as the shooting of a clerk at a G.I. Joe’s convenience store.”

One might see Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s logic in scheduling a gun buyback in conjunction with the City of Central Falls on October 17. What is far more difficult to understand are the stunningly reckless provisions of the program.

For example, the cities have announced that any gun may be turned in anonymously, no questions asked, with amnesty for possession. And here’s the kicker: the gun will be destroyed, and “will not be tested for matches to ongoing cases” (emphasis mine).

So, if you have murdered someone and you’re wondering how best to dispose of the smoking gun, the answer is clear—give it to the police and they will get rid of it for you. It’ll never show up as evidence against you in court. But wait, there’s more: If you stole that gun you used in the crime, and it was reported as stolen by the rightful owner, the city will give you a $500 gift card. It’s an offer not even the Mafia can match.

The head of the Providence Fraternal Order of Police, Michael Imondi, told talk show host Matt Allen that gun buyback programs are of limited value, citing the city’s last program which resulted in no guns being turned in. So, policymakers at the highest levels of the city’s administration apparently have decided that the offer wasn’t attractive enough. This time, they must have reasoned, they will help destroy potential evidence. Surely that will make the citizenry safer, right? Never mind the fact that studies have shown that gun buyback programs have been found to be largely ineffective in reducing violent crime.

From a public safety perspective, it’s hard to imagine that this proposal made it past multiple decision-makers without any of them considering the potential for a weapon used in a crime being willingly—even eagerly—destroyed by the very agency sworn to investigate such crimes. But the alternative is that they were well aware of the possibility and decided to take that risk anyway in order to get one more gun off of the streets. It’s a disastrous contortion of risk-based decision making.

That risk should have been weighed against the threat posed not by the weapon, but by the perpetrator. Elorza’s plan will make the former go away, but ensure that the latter can go on committing violent crimes against the inhabitants of the City of Providence with a different weapon (and, of course, the same is true of Central Falls). Accordingly, this gun buyback program has the dubious likelihood of actually making the streets more dangerous. And that serves no one.