Less than 24-hours ago on Saturday, the city of San Mateo, California concluded a gun buyback program that collected 680 guns, including 24 assault weapons, as reported by the Bay area Mercury News. The city spent $63,500 for those weapons, which also included a 100-round magazine, various 30-round magazines, a sawed-off shotgun and a high-capacity shotgun known as a "street sweeper."
As reported earlier today, weekend gun buyback programs also concluded in the last 24 hours in Miami, Seattle and Trenton netted a total of nearly 3,000 guns, including sawed-off shotguns, an AK-47 with a 40-round clip, a 12-gauge "Street-sweeper" shotgun with a 12-round tommy gun-like drum cartridge, and a surface to air missile launcher.
These and other cities have recently embraced expensive gun buyback programs in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Such programs work well as political theater, allowing city officials and police to show the media stacks of handguns, hunting rifles, and even the occasional assault weapon. With those boxes of turned-in weapons stacked in the background of local TV ads, mayors, sheriffs and other elected officials can plausibly argue that they should be reelected because the gun buybacks made the streets safer.
Over three decades of research show, however, shows that gun buyback programs do not make streets safer; in some instances, they make them more dangerous. A 2001 study by Michigan State University economist W.P. Mullin found that gun buyback programs actually increase the number of guns in circulation.
A similar conclusion was reached by the National Research Council in 2004, which found that gun buybacks help people -- including criminals -- purchase new guns using the money received from turning in older, antique, and possibly crime-associated gun with no questions asked.
As noted by USA Today earlier this month:
Researchers who have evaluated gun control strategies say buybacks – despite their popularity – are among the least effective ways to reduce gun violence. They say targeted police patrols, intervention efforts with known criminals and, to a lesser extent, tougher gun laws all work better than buybacks.
The biggest weakness of buybacks, which offer cash or gift cards for guns, is that the firearms they usually collect are insignificant when measured against the arsenal now in the hands of American citizens.
NPR also noted that:
A Harvard University study dating from the mid-1990s concluded that buybacks were largely ineffective in reducing gun violence because they weren't getting the right kinds of weapons off the street.
As one police officer told NPR:
Getting at the weapons you really want is not easy. Years ago, when they first tried gun buybacks, they ran into the same problem. People brought in guns that were broken so they could get the cash, or they'd go out and get someone else's gun to turn in — but not the one they were planning on using.
The Seattle Times, also reporting earlier this month in a prelude to the gun buyback that city recently concluded, noted:
The last Seattle weapons buyback was held in 1992…. That program netted 1,700 handguns. A subsequent evaluation of the buyback, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the number of guns collected represented less than 1 percent of handguns in Seattle homes.
'The Seattle buyback program failed to reduce significantly the frequency of firearm injuries, deaths or crimes,' the [CDC] evaluation said.
Finally, as Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University recently noted in the Washington Times with respect to government buyback efforts:
The general conclusion of researchers is that bad guys don’t turn in their guns. Instead, it’s the proverbial little old lady, maybe a widow of a guy who owned guns years ago.
The only way you can argue it reduces violence is if you assert that the gun may have been stolen and might have been used to commit a crime. It requires so many things to happen that it’s just implausible. It’s highly unlikely you can prevent gun violence this way.
It’s not effective at all. It’s just money down the tubes. It’s political posturing, people trying to show their concern about the issue and that they’re doing something about the issue without regard to whether there is the slightest reason to believe it’ll actually have some impact on reducing gun violence.
Thus, gun control advocates may be quick to point to the surrendered surface-to-air missile and other weapons as small victory for San Mateo, Miami, Seattle and Trenton. In truth, even the most hardened gun rights advocate would probably sleep better at night knowing that his neighbor did not have a weapon capable of shooting down an airplane or destroying a small house. But these isolated events are rare, and they overshadow all of the worthless, inoperable guns turned in for cash -- some of which is used to by new guns.