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The Gun Buyback May Not Come Back

Posted by on November 20, 2008

[This post was originally written for my employer’s blog, Show-Me Daily.]

An article from the Post-Dispatch tells us that, despite a request from the police chief to repeat last year’s gun buyback, the Board of Police Commissioners failed to approve funding for the program. The matter failed on a 2-2 tie vote, with the mayor — who would’ve voted for it — absent, because of a prior engagement.

Free-market advocates want to reduce violent crime as much as any other group, perhaps more so. If gun buybacks* reduce crime, I’m officially gung-ho: Let’s do it.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no evidence that gun buybacks actually reduce crime in the slightest measurable way. Here are some links. From the first link:

[A]cademic researchers – often divided by passionate differences over gun control – are in rare agreement in their conclusions.

[…] University of Pennsylvania professor Lawrence Sherman, who headed a wide-ranging assessment of crime prevention programs, called gun buy-backs “the program that is best known to be ineffective” in reducing firearms violence.

From the fourth link:

“The typical person who hands in a gun is not a criminal,” [research director at the Independent Institute, Alex] Tabarrok says. “If they want to reduce crime, they ought to put more police on the streets, something we know works.”

Show-Me Daily has covered this before — mostly last year, when this unfortunate idea took hold of our police. I don’t particularly blame them; if it were my job to deal face-to-face with criminals every day, I’d want to do whatever I could to reduce the chance that they’d wave a gun my way. Unfortunately, gun buybacks simply are not a useful way to accomplish this, and they may have the opposite of their intended result.

For a tangentially related post to which the Peltzman Effect also applies, read this (if you haven’t already).

*The word “buyback” in this case is a particularly euphemistic misnomer, in my opinion. It subtly reinforces the idea that the police are the source of all guns/protection, thus undermining the notion that individuals have the right/responsibility to defend themselves. This is in no way aimed at the StL PD, who I’m sure did not invent or popularize this term, I mean only to call attention to the subtle psychological damage this term may be inflicting.

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