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By Dean Weingarten

Gun Buy Backs

Freakonomics and Gun ‘Buybacks’

Dean Weingarten

Dean Weingarten

Arizona - -( While doing some research on the academic findings of the futility of gun “buybacks”, I found this statement from the “Freakonomics” web site:

When it comes to gun buybacks, both the theory and the data could not be clearer in showing that they don’t work. The only guns that get turned in are ones that people put little value on anyway. There is no impact on crime. On the positive side, the “cash for clunkers” program is more attractive than the gun buyback program because, as long as they are being driven, old cars pollute, whereas old guns just sit there.

This is from 2009.   It is not particularly unusual; academic studies are in agreement that gun “buybacks” do not reduce crime, and that police resources used for them could be better spent elsewhere.

But some say that energy could be better put to use in other ways. Alex Tabarrok, research director of the nonpartisan Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., said investing in buyback programs makes little sense when study after study shows they don’t work.

A few researchers believe buybacks may even do some harm: A 1999 article in the Law and Order journal found that some people sold guns to police during buybacks and then used the money to buy new guns.

It is ironic that the quote above equates buying “new guns” with harm.  It reinforces my theory that the only significant effect of the gun “buybacks” is “to send a message”, that is, for political propaganda.   The message is clear: guns are bad and should be turned in to the police.   The very term “buyback” is a propaganda term.   The guns were never owned by the people doing the buying, so they cannot be “bought back“.   The term implies that all guns are only legitimately owned by the government.   The theory does a good job of explaining why proponents of gun “buybacks” become so incensed when it is suggested that the guns be sold to responsible individuals, whether licensed dealers or individuals that undergo background checks, and the proceeds used for charity or public benefit.

At first glance, selling the guns would appear to reinforce what those promoting the “buybacks” want – government oversight of those who purchase guns.  But they do not see it that way.   Proponents of the gun “buybacks” make statements such as:

Gun buy-back programs may become illegal
A bill that would do away with gun buy-back programs in Indiana will now go before the Indiana Senate for a vote. 

But the proposal, as indicated in this previous article, does nothing of the sort.  It does not prevent cities from  holding gun “buybacks“, it would have prevented them from indiscriminately destroying the guns that they bring in.   In the minds of the proponents, a “buyback” must result in the destruction of the guns, a purely symbolic act, that “sends a message“.

Selling the guns sends a different message: guns are valuable resources that many people find useful.

Buybacks“, which I prefer to describe as “turn in events” are on the decline.   Much of the reason for this decline is the increase in private buyers that show up at these events, money in hand, asserting their rights, and spoiling the message of “guns are bad and should be turned in to the police”.   The only places where “buybacks” are flourishing are those states that have effectively banned private sales of firearms at such events, such as New Jersey and California.

Even those promoting a disarmed population are distancing themselves from “buybacks“.   This email message was unearthed in a freedom of information request in Washington State:

 “I wish you guys would … have talked to us/CeaseFire about this before moving forward,” Fascitelli said in an email to King County Executive Dow Constantine and a Mayor’s Office staffer. “The overwhelming research shows that buybacks generally don’t work well and are a waste of resources and are mocked by the NRA.

c2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 2 User comments to “Freakonomics and Gun ‘Buybacks’”

    1. Kurt Hofmann on June 26, 2014 at 11:01 AM said:

      My biggest objection to gun “buybacks” (apart from the misnomer of the name–the guns are not being bought “back,” by a previous owner) is the fact that the guns submitted are very likely used to pad “crime gun” statistics:

    2. Most of these firearms were kept by law abiding citizens inside their homes, when Police and politicians claim “we got more guns off the street” they are not correct.

      I wonder why more firearms dealers are not advertising their own purchase programs or offering to sell unwanted firearms on consignment.

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