Thursday, July 24, 2008

Gun buybacks don't work

My thoughts exactly. From Eric Zorn's Change of Subject blog at

Hard to find good reason to buy back guns
Here are six reasons I'm wary of gun buybacks, such as the one scheduled for Saturday in Chicago in which those who turn in firearms at any of 25 locations get a $100 prepaid credit card per gun, no questions asked:
1. I can't imagine criminals disarming themselves for a lousy $100.
Sure, they might dump their excess, scrap or stolen piece for the bounty. But if having a gun is integral to their criminal activities, it's absurd to think a buyback would inspire them to give up the tools of their trade.
2. I don't see the economic sense of offering law-abiding people a flat fee for their guns.
If you own a firearm worth more than $100, as most firearms are, the only reason to take less for it is if you have no use for it. In that case, your gun is probably not contributing to the gun violence these programs are supposed to address.
3. I worry about buyback programs subsidizing crime and weapons traffic.
When an evildoer offers up a junky old firearm that's worth less than $100, the money stands not only to help him purchase a better gun but also creates an incentive for him to hoard and steal cheap guns.
A regular buyback program (Saturday will be Chicago's fourth annual) "will actually raise gun holdings since it permanently lowers ownership costs," according to a March 2001 analysis in the International Review of Law and Economics. They will "therefore have the opposite effect of what buyback proponents intend."
4. I can't find much evidence that buybacks are effective.
I went searching and found study after study concluding, as the U.S. Surgeon General concluded in a 2001 report on youth violence, that gun buyback programs are "a particularly expensive strategy [that has] consistently been shown to have no effect on gun violence, including firearm-related homicide and injury."
The report added, "There is some evidence that most of the guns turned in are not functional and that most persons turning in guns have other guns at home."
Was I somehow missing studies that showed the opposite? The Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence and the Chicago Police Department, backers of the program, had nothing. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence didn't respond to a detailed query.
5. I'm not convinced that buybacks get "problem" guns off the streets.
Chicago Police Department spokeswoman Monique Bond didn't have any kind of statistical breakdown of the roughly 6,050 firearms obtained in last year's buyback. What percentage were actually functional? What sorts of crimes were they traced back to?
6. I hear in Mayor Richard Daley's arm-flapping jibber-jabber on this point an admission that the buyback is simply a feel-good program to make citizens believe the city is actually doing something to reduce gun violence.
"If someone takes that gun and fires at you, are you willing to take that chance?" Daley demanded of a reporter Tuesday when asked about the guns' quality. "Not many people are. Besides that, no one likes to have a gun placed in front of their face. So don't ever think that the guns turned in don't work."
He went on: "We're going to go over [to your office] and find out whether they work. We don't ask anyone to do that. They do work. These weapons are very significant. They do work."
You can read a longer transcript of Daley's defense of the buyback online at, where I'm building a webliography of sources on this topic.
My mind remains open, but I can't think of one reason why.

A webliography of sources on the topic of gun buy-backs is here
An extended version of Mayor Richard Daley's discursion is here
Gun buy-back locations here
Post your comments on this issue on the thread here

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