News and Commentary

Leftists Love Gun Buybacks. They Don’t Work.

The left loves gun buybacks, because they are a step toward creating their gun-free utopia. Unfortunately for them, gun buybacks don’t work.

A Chicago Sun-Times editorial applauded Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s $250,000 gun buyback program and whined that the gun lobby was going to “exploit it”:

On Monday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a $250,000 gun buyback program he hopes will get 2,500 guns off the streets. Just hours later, a Downstate pro-gun group promised to exploit the program by driving up to Chicago with their oldest, cheapest and most worthless guns and turning them in for gift cards. The group, Guns Save Life, did the same thing during a 2012 gun buyback program.

The group’s indifference to the suffering in gun-plagued Chicago neighborhoods is stunning.

What is stunning is that the Sun-Times doesn’t realize that Guns Save Life simply displays the absurdity of the program. People are going to turn in malfunctioning guns if they make a profit. Why would people, especially criminals, agree to voluntarily turn over a perfectly well-functioning gun? But facts can’t get in the way of their utopian dream:

Voluntary gun buyback programs, such as Chicago’s, have been criticized as ineffective. The police tend to recover old, malfunctioning firearms or weapons from people who didn’t want them and were unlikely ever to use them. And the number of guns collected is just a drop in the bucket compared with the numbers of guns out there. A handful of studies have not found a direct correlation between gun buyback programs and reduced rates of gun crimes.

There is, nonetheless, great value in such programs. They are part of a larger effort to reset society’s thinking about guns, to spread the message that we are awash in guns — so many of them illegal — and we must do more to combat gun violence. If buyback programs also directly reduce the number of gun crimes, so much the better.

Notice how there is no use of facts or logic in this editorial, only emotion and feelings. Whether or not a gun buyback actually reduces gun crime, or overall violent crime, is irrelevant because a gun buyback makes the politically correct nerds at the Sun-Times feel better about themselves.

Do they not realize that they just proved that gun control doesn’t work when they admitted so many guns are in circulation illegally? The premise of the gun-rights advocates’ argument is that criminals will always find way to get a hold of guns illegally, as the Sun-Times seems to understand.

Facts, data and studies may not matter to the Sun-Times and other gun-control zealots. But they do matter to people who are interested in looking for the best policy outcomes for society.

John Lott, Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, wrote in his blog that gun buyback programs don’t work because “1) Most of the guns sold don’t work. 2) It is possible that the gun buyback programs actually allow those giving up the guns to buy money to buy working guns. 3) The gun buyback program can actually help criminals get rid of guns that they have used in crime and to get rid of them in a way that allows them to make some money off them.”

There have been studies done on the effect of gun buyback programs that back up Lott’s claim.

“Studies in Seattle and Sacramento in 1994 and 1998 suggested that the type of people selling their firearms — relatively few young men, for instance — didn’t resemble the general gun-owning population and weren’t likely to commit gun crimes,” J.B. Wogan reluctantly wrote in “In Seattle, there appeared to be no statistically significant change in gun-related homicides after its gun buyback. A 2002 study in Milwaukee found that handguns sold back to local police didn’t fit the profile of handguns used in homicides. Buybacks, the studies seemed to say, don’t work.”

Of course, later in the article, Wogan quotes the author of the studies who said that gun buybacks deserve a “re-examination” because “buybacks may play an important role in mobilizing a community to examine gun control.” Again, feelings trump facts.

Matt Vespa at Townhall wrote about Boston’s 2014 gun buyback program, which elicited 400 firearms to be turned over, while non-fatal shootings rose by 43 percent. This year, the number of firearms turned over totaled … one. As Vespa writes, “That’s not a success; that’s abject failure.”

And then there’s the left’s favorite gun buyback example: Australia. After a mass shooting in Port Arthur, Australia’s parliament implemented a temporary gun buyback program in 1996 that resulted in, at the low end, 650,000 guns turned over. President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both praised Australia’s program and have hinted that they would like to see something similar happen in the United States.

“The gun buy-back and restrictive legislative changes had no influence on firearm homicide in Australia.”

British Journal of Criminology

Have Obama and Clinton thought about how exactly this would work in the U.S.? If one takes the low-end number of guns confiscated in Australia, 650,000, then that works out to about one-fifth to one-third of guns turned over in Australia. There are about 310 million guns in circulation in the U.S., so the same proportion would work out to 60-105 million guns being confiscated. The left loves to mock the idea of rounding up 11 million illegal aliens, so how can they say that and yet claim it’s possible for that many guns to be turned over?

Data shows that the gun buyback program didn’t result in lower gun homicides and suicides, as Mark Wright in National Review points out using two studies:

Researchers at the University of Melbourne concluded in a 2008 study, “Although gun buybacks appear to be a logical and sensible policy that helps to placate the public’s fears, the evidence so far suggests that in the Australian context, the high expenditure incurred to fund the 1996 gun buyback has not translated into any tangible reductions in terms of firearm deaths.”

A 2007 study published in the British Journal of Criminology determined, “The gun buy-back and restrictive legislative changes had no influence on firearm homicide in Australia.” The gun homicide rate was already low in Australia and was falling prior to the Port Arthur shooting.

The study did acknowledge that the gun buyback did result in lower firearm suicides and accidental firearm deaths. However, the researchers note that there was an initial spike in non-firearm suicides for the next couple of years, followed by a decline. This led the researchers to conclude that “suicide rates in Australia were highly influenced by other societal changes, confounding the ability to discern any effect on firearm suicides” after the buyback program. On the lower accidental firearms death rate, the researchers point out that “over the time period investigated, there was a relatively small number of accidental deaths per annum, with substantial variability” which means the lower accidental firearms death rate “should be approached with caution.”

In a written testimony to the Australian parliament, Lott noted that after Australia’s gun buyback, the gun levels in Australia rose to the point where by 2010, there were as many guns in circulation as there were before the gun buyback. Lott wrote that if under the logic of gun control advocates, gun deaths would have decreased at first and then increased as guns came back into circulation. But that is not what happened.

“The rate of firearm suicides was falling at about the same rate after the buyback as they were before hand. After the buyback, there was no sudden drop and then an increase,” Lott wrote. “But it isn’t just firearm suicides that fell after the buyback — non-firearm suicides fell by virtually the same about as firearm suicides. That fits in with exist research and implies that something else is driving down suicides.”

It was the same with gun homicides.

“Prior to 1996, there was already a clear downward in firearm homicides, and this pattern continued after the buyback. It is hence difficult to link the decline to the buyback,” Lott wrote. “Again, as with suicides, both non-firearm and firearm homicides fell by similar amounts. In fact, the trend in non-firearms homicides shows a much larger decline between the pre- and post-buyback periods. This suggests that crime has been falling for other reasons. Note that the change in homicides doesn’t follow the change in gun ownership – there is no increase in homicides as gun ownership gradually increased.”

So the facts and data clearly suggest that gun buybacks do not reduce gun deaths at all. Instead of relying on emotions and feelings, the Sun-Times editorial board should focus on solutions that are backed by empirical data.