Gunscapes: Toward a Global Geography
of the Firearm
Charles Fruehling Springwood
In recent decades, a tradition has emerged in many urban centers, both within and outside the United States, in which city governments invite citizens to bring their firearms to a central location in order to turn them over (Renner 1998: 145). More specifically, these events are staged as exchanges, and those turning over a gun—even one in disrepair—receive a sum of money, perhaps US$100.00, or a voucher to purchase groceries or other goods. Of course, the ostensible goal of these gun buybacks is to reduce the number of weapons in the community. Law enforcement officials usually supervise the exchanges, but usually no questions are asked regarding the legality or registration-status of the donated arms. Although one such program in Washington, DC, collected 2,306 guns over two days in 1999, some doubt the ultimate effectiveness of these programs, which — on balance—have little effect on crime. Nevertheless, many would acknowledge that the underlying purpose of these programs is largely symbolic.
In a turn highlighting the ease with which guns have always occupied the space between function and play, or more alliteratively, between tool and toy (Anderson 1987), toy gun buybacks have also become popular. Parallel to real gun buybacks, children may hand over their toys—rifles, revolvers, or sometimes even “rayguns”—in exchange for other, nonviolent playthings. And on at least one occasion, Toys R Us vouchers have been exchanged for real firearms (Worsnop 1994: 518). During the summer of 2005, I spoke to some parents in Mexico City who a year earlier had organized toy-gun exchanges in their local neighborhoods. A mother of four children, from the borough of Iztapalapa, remarked that, “Although this won't cause crime to drop, it discourages our kids from seeing guns as positive, pleasurable things.” “Hopefully, it might also keep them from seeking out real guns,” she added. Such programs reflect a concern about the psychological effects of gun violence on children, a desire to discourage children from becoming too complacent with guns, and a fear that they will ultimately be drawn to arms that really shoot.
As a case in point, in January of 2006 in Winter Springs, FL, a fifteen-yearold boy, Christopher Penley, was shot dead by a SWAT police officer at his high