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  • Robert Farago

Do Gun Buybacks Work?

Pssst. Mister. Wanna buy a gun? If you’re in a low-crime neighborhood, the chances of being approached by a gat-seller are smaller than the odds of your nearby luxury hotel populating with government-subsidized “newcomers.” If you’re in a high-crime urban ghetto…

There’s no lack of firearms for sale on the DL. The unregistered firearms dealers are smart enough not to approach random strangers with a ballistic device, but they’re up for legit referrals. Happy to help. No paperwork required.

Opposing the illegal gun trade: politicians promising to “take illegal guns off the street.” It’s a popular position amongst the coddled chattering classes. Who doesn’t want illegal guns out of the hands of criminals? Less guns, less crime!

The Curious History of The Gun Buyback

Criminals need guns, so criminals get guns, one way or the other (predominately by stealing them from legal owners). Politicians need votes. So politicians get votes, one way or the other.

In 1974, Baltimore pols and their police BFF’s (not shown) invented the “gun buyback.” Arrest you for possessing illegal guns? Nah. We’ll pay you for them! No questions asked!

It was media catnip. Guns! Actual guns! Hundreds of ‘em! Off the street! There they are! Proud pols and the po-po stepped-up the microphones and gave voters the news: we’re doing something about guns.

There’ve been thousands of vote-buying gun buybacks in the intervening fifty years, almost always in places where gun violence is rampant.

Ipso Non Facto

The name “gun buyback” provides immediate insight into the process’ inherent absurdity.

The police/government didn’t buy the guns tendered at buybacks. The firearms industry isn’t contributing cash (save through their taxes). So strictly speaking, the term “buyback” doesn’t apply.

Gun buybacks are gun buying programs, plain and simple. Created to collect and destroy guns at taxpayers’ expense.

In that sense, they’re the firearms equivalent of the 2009 “Cash for Clunkers” program, where Uncle Sam wrote millions of $3500 to $4500 vouchers to take dirty-running drek off the streets.

The Car Allowance Rebate System cost taxpayers $3b – in one month. To qualify for Clunkers cash, recipients had to buy a new car. Or a newer old car.

Cash for Clunkers pleased the automotive industry no end (they may have had a little something to do with its creation). Not to mention members of the nascent Global Warming movement.

There’s no running total on how much local and state government have paid out for gun buybacks. They’re operated on a no-purchase-necessary basis.

In fact, organizers want the public to believe recipients will never buy another gun again. The gun industry may be sniggering at that, but they ain’t sayin’ nothin’.

The Gun Buyback’s Target Market

What criminal who has a gun is going to think, “You know what? I don’t need this thing. I’ll sell it to The Man and be done with the whole gun violence thing.” Then again…

If a criminal has a spare gun or five hanging around and the cops are purchasing firearms for $200 (handgun) or $400 (long rifle) or more, no-questions-asked, why not?

Money’s money. Even if the cops know the seller is a bad guy, there’s not a damn thing they can do about it.

Even so, bad guy gun dealers aren’t the gun buybacks’ main “customers.” It’s poor people with broken ass guns that are worth… nothing. Zero. Zilch. The big goose egg.

While the cops parade functional firearms to the press after they’ve spent taxpayers’ money, the vast majority of these weapons are as far from “crime guns” as you can get without bringing NERF into the equation. And hidden from view.

The law of supply and demand being what it is, gun buybacks may actually encourage criminals to steal guns to sell to the police (e.g., the ATF’s Milwaukee “sting.”)

For some reason, there’s no study on this admittedly theoretical phenomena.

Testing. Testing. One. Two…

So here we are in 2024, where the Stockton, California police are buy-backing their way into the local press. With a rule change designed to make the program more “effective.”

As reports, the Stockton police are warning sellers that “those looking to drop off any firearms need to ensure they are working before handing them over.”

Poor people trading old guns they’ve probably never fired for taxpayer cash making sure the firearm they’re surrendering to the police are functional. What could possibly go wrong? More to the point, what could possibly go right?

Gun Buybacks and Crime Reduction

Even Michael Bloomberg’s pet anti-gun “newsroom” The Trace can’t spin the truth about gun buybacks: they do nothing to reduce crime of any kind, sort or description.

The most rigorous studies of gun buyback programs have found little empirical evidence to suggest that they reduce shootings, homicides, or suicides by any significant degree in either the short- or long-term.  “Turning in small numbers of firearms does not change the fact that they are readily available in many places,” Charbonneau said. “And so you still have a flow of firearms through a community. If you think of it as a supply-side intervention, the supply is barely affected.”

So how in the world would The Trace justify wasting money and police time on gun buybacks?

The same way politicians continue “selling” the idea of buying guns.

Even if it’s not realistic to expect buybacks to independently reduce rates of gun violence, the programs may be able to shift views about guns and mobilize communities to work to reduce violence. “The value of buybacks is principally as a mobilization tool, bringing together people and organizations who want to work on the problem,” Dr. Garen Wintemute, an expert on public health and gun violence at the University of California, Davis, told The Trace in 2021

As usual, the anti-gunners’ go-to anti-gun rights academic is on a hiding to nowhere, save more federal funding for his research.

How About A Gang Buyback?

America is home to approximately 33k gangs with over a million members. As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, they’re responsible for the vast majority of criminal activity. Up to 90 percent.

The feds are spending hundreds of millions, billions of dollars on local and state efforts to reduce “retaliatory gun violence.” Great. But…

Until we address the social ills leading Americans into gangs – our failed education system, single parent families, illegal drug use, poverty, diminished religious participation and more – our anti-gang money will be almost as ineffective as gun buybacks at reducing “gun violence.” But not quite.


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