Do Gun Buyback Programs Work?


Gun buyback programs were held in two major U.S. cities this weekend, taking some 850 firearms off the streets. But the big question is, do these programs work?

In the New York City borough of Staten Island, more than 150 weapons were collected, most of them handguns, according to People were given $200 for a working handgun, $20 for a rifle or shotgun.

Part of the offer was that people could turn in their guns with no questions asked.

"We asked nobody where they obtained it from. We asked nobody's name," said Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan.

In Cleveland and at four suburban locations, 706 guns were turned in. Police would have gotten more except they ran out of the $100 Target gift cards they were giving in exchange for the weapons.

Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath is a big believer in such programs, saying they help curb crime and save lives.

"If we collect 500 or 600 guns, one of those guns would have gotten into the wrong hands at some time," McGrath told The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Someone would have gotten hurt."

It was a similar sentiment back on Staten Island.

"It's extremely important that they get any gun," said Rev. Agnes McBeth, assistant pastor at St. Philip's Baptist Church, where the buyback program was held. "It's one less opportunity for a gun to fall into the wrong hands or be used for the wrong purpose by the wrong people, either in a crime or by accident."

However, not everybody agrees that gun buybacks are a good idea. Writing an op-ed for the Oakland Tribune about that city's 2008 buyback program, Alex Tabarrok said such programs can actually have the opposite of the desired effect.

He explains:

Gun buybacks won’t reduce the number of guns in Oakland. In fact, buybacks may increase the number of guns in Oakland.

Imagine that gun dealers offered a guarantee with every gun: Whenever this gun gets old and wears down, the dealer will buy back the gun for $250.

The dealer’s guarantee makes guns more valuable, so people will buy more guns.

But the story is exactly the same when it’s the police offering the guarantee. If buyers know that they can sell their old guns in a buyback, they are more likely to buy new guns. Thus the more common that gun buybacks become, the more likely they are to misfire.


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