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Federal Violence Reduction Dollars Should Follow the Evidence

In an op-ed published in the Houston Chronicle, Arnold Ventures Director of Criminal Justice Asheley Van Ness calls on local policymakers to avoid gun buyback programs and instead focus on proven or innovative violence interventions.

Under pressure to address heightened levels of community violence since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the City of Houston is preparing to hold its third gun buyback program in just a year. 

They shouldn’t,” Arnold Ventures Director of Criminal Justice Asheley Van Ness writes in the Houston Chronicle. Because existing research finds little evidence that gun buyback programs work.” 

Gun buyback programs may make a good soundbite, but in reality very few guns are turned in, and they have little to no demonstrable effect on reducing violence.

Instead, the $1 million in federal funding that Houston is using for the gun buyback program would be better spent on other violence reduction strategies that have a stronger evidence base. This includes cognitive-behavioral therapy programs for those at risk of being involved in violence, investments in the built environment (such as greening vacant lots, rehabilitating abandoned buildings, and improving street lighting), and establishing focused deterrence programs (which are a mix of policing and social services). 

To their credit, Houston and Harris County have spent much of their federal dollars on data-driven policies,” Van Ness wrote. Unlike the gun buyback effort, these are the sorts of programs that should be making the headlines and attracting news cameras.” 

This op-ed builds on a similar one Van Ness wrote in 2021.

Read the whole op-ed here.