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Objectives: To determine whether the firearms recovered in buyback programs in a large urban community are the types most closely associated with firearm fatalities in the same geographic area.
Methods: The type, caliber, and manufacturer of 941 handguns recovered in Milwaukee County 1994–96 buyback programs were compared with 369 homicide related and 125 suicide related handguns used in Milwaukee during 1994–97.
Results: Buyback handguns differed substantially from those used in homicide and suicide. One third of buyback handguns were semiautomatic pistols versus two thirds of homicide related handguns (p<0.001) and 40% of suicide related handguns (p=NS). Over 75% of buyback handguns were small caliber compared with 24% of homicide and 32% of suicide handguns (p<0.001). The top two manufacturers of buyback handguns represented 30% of these guns but only 5% of fatality related handguns (p<0.001). Companies currently out of business manufactured 15% of buyback handguns versus 7% of fatality related handguns (p<0.001).
Conclusions: Handguns recovered in buyback programs are not the types most commonly linked to firearm homicides and suicides. Although buyback programs may increase awareness of firearm violence, limited resources for firearm injury prevention may be better spent in other ways.