Why A Gun Buyback Wouldn’t Pay Off
Australia is held as the gold standard for how a country can radically change their gun control laws after a mass shooting. The 1996 Port Arthur incident in Australia prompted the government to reform policy in response to the massacre. The conversations that occur after mass shootings in the United States frequently cite Australia as a model for how to prevent such a tragedy from occurring again. That reducing the amount of guns, through weapons buybacks, will decrease gun crime in the United States.
One key part of the Australian gun reforms was a federally-funded gun buyback program. The Australian government collected 660,959 firearms for destruction from its citizens. This program was an instrumental part of removing firearms from almost half the gun-owning households in the country. It should be noted that the purpose of gun buyback programs, like Australia’s, is not to collect all firearms, but to reduce the availability of specific kinds. The financing for the gun buyback program came from a 0.2 percent levy tax on national health insurance and amounted to approximately $230 million (USD) in expenditures.
In the United States there are an estimated 357 million firearms in the possession of civilians. This number does not include illegally possessed firearms, guns that have been destroyed, or damaged guns that cannot fire. The number of guns collected through the world’s largest buyback program equates to 0.19% of the firearms present in the United States. Compared to figures from Australia’s program, to collect roughly 25% of firearms in the United States would cost $31 billion in taxpayer money. In the current economic and political climate, such an act would be nearly impossible to fund and financially irresponsible to do so. The simple comparison also fails to account for having to conduct an operation in a country the size of the United States, rather than Australia. Any type of national buyback program would face an insurmountable cost to reduce enough firearms to have an impact on gun violence in the United States, if at all.
Moving beyond the hypothetical, we can look at historical attempts of gun buyback programs in the US and the levels of success those programs had. In the United States gun buyback programs are categorized by two trends, the inability to buy back firearms used in crimes and the lack of evidence supporting such programs led to a reduction in crime.
The idea behind a gun buyback program is to remove semi-automatic weapons, primarily handguns, from circulation due to their prevalence in crime. The FBI homicide statistics for 2014: show that handguns accounted for 5,562 of 6,165 homicides, when the type of firearm is known. On October 5th, 2017, Monmouth County in New Jersey collected 120 firearms during their buyback program. Of the weapons collected, 2 were “assault rifles” and 14 of the 48 handguns were semi-automatic. Only 13% of the firearms collected were weapons likely to be used in violent crimes. A report by USA Today shows that the effort in New Jersey is representative of programs across the nation. The report mentions that people most inclined to participate in gun buyback programs are also the least likely to commit crime.
The report by USA Today also looks at the effect such programs have on reducing crime in general: “They don't get a lot of crime guns off the street,” said Matt Makarios, a criminal justice professor who studied buyback programs while at the University of Cincinnati in 2008. “You're only going to reduce the likelihood of gun crimes if you reduce the number of guns used in crimes.” The report categorizes the programs to be about making a statement or getting people involved about the issue, rather than a solution. An evaluation of the 1992 gun buyback program in Seattle showed no significant statistical effect on crime after the buyback, though they collected 500 firearms, 95% of which were handguns. An extensive report by The Trace reveals a significant sum of evidence that suggests buyback programs have little to no effect on gun violence in the United States. Within the report by Trace is a statement from the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, “The main drawback to gun buyback programs is that they tend to get junk guns or guns that have been with a family for a long period of time,” says James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. “They’re not catching the nine-millimeter and forty-caliber semiautomatic handguns that are so prevalent in violent crime today.” Very little evidence can be show that shows gun buyback programs lead to a reduction in gun violence, especially when so much suggests the opposite is true.
The purpose of this article is to reinforce the fact that buyback programs are not an effective answer to the issue of gun violence in the United States. The popularity of such programs are due to their public nature and opportunity to signal to the community that something has been done, though the reality of the programs suggest otherwise. It is important to understand that the costs of these programs outweigh the benefits and we must look elsewhere to answer the issue of gun violence in the United States.
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