One day after conservative and gun rights groups announced a national “Gun Appreciation Day” on Jan. 19 – two days before Barack Obama’s second inauguration, coinciding with Martin Luther King Day – several organizations in Seattle and King County are announcing a gun buyback program that may be more flash than substance.
The program will grab big headlines, but according to various sources and several experts, such programs may not produce any negligible effect where violent crime is concerned. A 2004 study by the National Research Council reported the following:
“…The theoretical premise for gun buy-back programs is that the program will lead to fewer guns on the streets because fewer guns are available for either theft or trade, and that consequently violence will decline. It is the committee’s view that the theory underlying gun buy-back programs is badly flawed and the empirical evidence demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these programs.
“The theory on which gun buy-back programs is based is flawed in three respects. First, the guns that are typically surrendered in gun buy-backs are those that are least likely to be used in criminal activities. Typically, the guns turned in tend to be of two types: (1) old, malfunctioning guns whose resale value is less than the reward offered in buy-back programs or (2) guns owned by individuals who derive little value from the possession of the guns (e.g., those who have inherited guns). The Police Executive Research Forum (1996) found this in their analysis of the differences between weapons handed in and those used in crimes. In contrast, those who are either using guns to carry out crimes or as protection in the course of engaging in other illegal activities, such as drug selling, have actively acquired their guns and are unlikely to want to participate in such programs.
“Second, because replacement guns are relatively easily obtained, the actual decline in the number of guns on the street may be smaller than the number of guns that are turned in. Third, the likelihood that any particular gun will be used in a crime in a given year is low. In 1999, approximately 6,500 homicides were committed with handguns. There are approximately 70 million handguns in the United States…”
An Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times noted, “For political theater, few things beat gun buyback programs such as the one held Saturday in Los Angeles. The resulting stacks of shotguns, rifles, handguns and even assault weapons make great TV and give the impression that politicians and police chiefs are putting a dent in the supply of dangerous firearms. It's fodder for a slow news day and a harmless enough marketing ploy -- but really reducing gun crime requires more than feel-good exercises.”
The announcement noted that both the Seattle Police Department and King County Sheriff’s Office are participating in this buyback. The big players are Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine. Along with them are the Mount Zion Baptist Church, Café Racer owner Kurt Geissel and others.
Gun buybacks have drawn the attention of gun rights activists on another level. At some of these events, activists have stationed themselves near a buyback location to offer more money to people for their guns. They’re not interested in the typical junk guns that frequently show up at these events – the rusty, non-functional beaters or illegally-altered firearms – but the valuable firearms, the heirlooms and very functional guns that may be worth hundreds if not thousands of dollars.
In Seattle, they are offering $100 gift cards in exchange for handguns, and up to $200 for a so-called "assault weapon," the Seattle Times reported.
There are many things that could be done with these firearms besides melting them down as the gun prohibitionists favor. Functional firearms could be used for law enforcement training purposes, or to raise money through legal sale to licensed dealers for police department operating expenses. Some of the long guns could be donated to hunter education and firearms safety programs.
The anti-gun mindset that simply wants to destroy these guns in the belief that a better world will result is all wet, according to a story in the Daily Beast, which noted that gun buybacks “might be a complete waste of time.”
“The people most likely to commit crimes are also the people least likely to be turn in their weapons, research has found,” the Daily Beast said. “And the highest-risk weapons are the least likely to be traded in at buybacks.”
Mother Jones has a story, complete with charts, that suggests gun buybacks may be wishful thinking at best.
And Reuters, referring to the 2004 study mentioned above, noted about a recent buyback program in Los Angeles that, “guns surrendered in buybacks tend to be old or inherited from previous owners, and not likely to be used in crime.”
One Seattle police official told this column that his interest would be to take guns off the streets so that his officers won’t be facing them. While that’s a noble sentiment, the guns that get turned in at such events typically aren’t the ones police would ever have to worry about. Certainly, there is the chance that one of these guns could be stolen and later used in a crime, but that could easily be said about guns stolen from police cars, including one belonging to a former Seattle police chief.
At the end of the day, of course, one must face the reality that – if Reuters, the Daily Beast and the National Research Council are all correct – a “feel good” exercise to gather up a bunch of guns and turn them into pot metal is not a panacea. There is no guarantee that a single crime will be prevented, or a single life saved.
The Los Angeles Times op-ed about political theater may have nailed it.
Yesterday, former Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, launched a new anti-gun effort dubbed “Americans for Responsible Solutions.” Their effort reportedly is designed to raise funds to match the “gun lobby” but there are already well-funded gun control efforts out there that include the Brady Campaign, Violence Policy Center, Committee to Stop Gun Violence and state-level groups including Washington Ceasefire.
Reports say Giffords and Kelly hope to “start a national conversation about gun violence and raise funds for political activity.”
That conversation must include gun owners and gun rights organizations, who must be taken seriously, because they’re the ones being targeted by new legislative measures. The time has long passed when the press and gun control groups can simply dismiss their interests as roadblocks to a Utopian society.