The Fallacy of Gun Buyback Programs

What you usually see in any gun buyback program is elderly people turning in old junk guns from some closet or garage where they have sat gathering dust for many years.

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Imagine the law enforcement officers of the Wild West offering to buy the James Gang’s pistols to end their criminal reign, rather than putting a bounty on their heads. Now imagine the government of any country naively paying good money to its criminal gangs or terrorists to voluntarily turn in their weapons to disarm themselves. Silly, right?

So why are supposedly educated people such as politicians, pastors, and civic leaders telling us that gun buyback programs make sense? From New York to Los Angeles various “cash for guns” efforts have been hyped by police departments and civic organizations across the country. But are they really an effective gang violence prevention strategy?

In May Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held well-publicized “Anonymous Gun Buyback” events in four areas of the city: LAPD Northeast, Harbor Area, 77th Area, and Nan Nuys. Similar gun buybacks have also been held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca. The Los Angeles program offered anonymous individuals a $200 pre-paid Ralph’s supermarket or Visa card in exchange for any firearm. News accounts boasted that such gun buyback programs were responsible for taking nearly 10,000 firearms off the streets since 2009.

Dallas has a similar effort called the Stewpot Buy Back program. Before its January 2013 campaign, the program boasted that since its inception it had collected and destroyed more than 400 pistols, rifles, shotguns, and “semi-automatic assault weapons.”

The Detroit area’s buyback program claimed at least 200 guns were taken off its streets in May. Wayne County and the Goodman Acker law firm offered a $50 Meijer gift card for each unloaded weapon. Sheriff Benny Napoleon said, “What we know is that the guns we get will never be used against anyone in a crime (because they will be destroyed). That much we know.”

During the Wayne County buyback campaign, gun rights advocates set up alternative “guns for cash” locations outside the New St. Paul Tabernacle Church where the gun buyback program had been set up. They offered cash for the guns meant for turn in and destruction.

A spokesman for the gun advocates, Rick Ector, speaking about the buyback program said, “I refer to them as “LEFTs” (Law Enforcement Firearms Transfers). They are misleading to the general public because they send a message that they are actually going to do something that’s going to affect the crime rate.”  

New York’s buyback effort is huge. A statement from the program’s organizers says, “The Cash for Guns Program is a program in which the New York City Police Department will pay $100 to any individual, excluding active law enforcement personnel and gun dealers, who present any handgun…sawed-off shotgun, or assault weapon in apparent operative condition to any precinct, transit district, or police service area (PSA). Weapons that do not qualify will be taken under the Cash for Guns Program, but will not qualify for the cash payment. An individual may surrender more than three weapons, but cash reimbursement will only be made for a maximum of three weapons.

Any individual turning in a qualifying weapon may do so at any precinct, transit district, or PSA 24-hours a day, seven days a week. No questions asked and no identification will be required, as the identity of all individuals will remain anonymous.”

In October the Cash for Guns campaign in Brooklyn netted 67 weapons at the Brooklyn Islamic Center. The Brooklyn program boasts 2,847 guns turned in since its beginnings in 2008. Of the 67 guns taken in this recent round, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said the collection included 28 semi-automatics, 37 revolvers, and two other weapons. Police said that among the turn-ins was a MAC-10 with a 30-round magazine and this seven of the handguns recovered were defaced. This campaign was sponsored by the District Attorney’s Office, NYPD, and the Sunset Park Business Improvement District. It offered a $200 bank card for operable handguns and assault rifles and a $20 Bank card for operable rifles and shotguns. 

After the Newtown, Conn., shootings, Washington Post columnist Matt Miller proposed a massive $100 Billion national gun buyback program, using the Australian buyback program as a template. Miller proposed banning all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns and a compulsory national gun buyback program. The proposed buyback would offer $500 per weapon.

What Miller didn’t mention is that the Australian national buyback program has had little effect on the crime rate. Last year the homicide rate in Australia fell only 0.4 percent while it dropped in the U.S. by 3.9 percent without disarming the public. In fact, Americans have been arming themselves at an astounding rate over the last few years. One poster I saw in a gun store showed President Obama with the caption “The Greatest Gun Salesman in America.”

The media-hyped gun phobia ignores the positive benefits of armed law abiding citizens and assumes a false philanthropic conscience for criminal gang members. Why would a gang member turn in his weapon to a gun buyback program? The only reasons I can think of belie any benefit from a gun buyback. Maybe it doesn’t work right, and he can’t go to the local gunsmith to fix it. Maybe it’s “hot” and recently used in a crime. Maybe he has 13 other guns just like it. Anyway he can ditch it anonymously and collect $100 to $500 to buy more and better ones at the local underground drug and gun dealers place.

I was once a Boy Scout and later a Boy Scout Leader. As they do in the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, we taught good kids the safe use of firearms at our campouts. This stayed with even the troubled youth their entire life. Living in the crime-ridden city of Compton, I witnessed many times law-abiding citizens defending themselves from gangs and other criminals with legally possessed firearms. The police usually got there after it was all over.

So why would the government seek to disarm the good citizen when they have failed to disarm the criminals? The prison system is the best example I can think of in which a law enforcement arm strictly enforces the ban on all weapons and yet criminals manage to make weapons and kill each other every day in this environment. No good citizen could feel safe in this gun-free zone. In what fantasy world would criminal gangs voluntarily turn in their weapons?   

What you usually see in any gun buyback program is elderly people turning in old junk guns from some closet or garage where they have sat gathering dust for many years. But sometimes the buyback haul includes stolen guns that might connect the person turning them in with murders or other gun violence that some overworked detective is trying to solve. And because the gun buyback is conducted anonymously with “no questions asked,” the chain of evidence and its links to these unsolved crimes are cut off. These cases are bound for the cold case file.

These gun buyback media events are designed to give the impression that police are doing something effective to combat criminal and criminal gangs. But they don’t affect crime and gun violence in any significant way, except maybe contributing to the gang deectives’ cold case file.   

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