Data Shows Gun ‘Buybacks’ Waste Tax Dollars, are Ineffective at Reducing Crime, Suicides…So Why Do So Many Cities Still Run Them?

Utah Salt Lake gun buyback buy back
A Salt Lake City Policeman examines a gun during a buyback on Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

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By Salam Fatohi

Recently, Pew Charitable Trusts explored gun buyback programs and their ability to reduce crime. A “gun buyback program,” or GBP, is a local government program that purchases unwanted firearms. The premise that the government is purchasing “back” privately-owned firearms is nonsense because the government never owned them in the first place.

Firearm manufacturers and importers are the point of origin for the vast majority of firearms in the United States. The U.S. government doesn’t manufacture firearms and buying them back is simply feel-good marketing. Suggesting otherwise is intellectually dishonest.

This clever promotional scheme is made more problematic since the programs use taxpayer dollars to fund such initiatives. When considering the fact that GBPs began in the 1970s, the fiscal impact to tax-paying citizens over the decades is material.

Sounds Good, But…

At first glance, buying guns so they don’t end up on the street and used in the commission of a crime seems like a noble cause. However, the problem with this exercise is that the firearms purchased are largely from low-crime cities, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) study.

Gun buybacks buy backs
Courtesy National Bureau of Economic Research

The NBER research states, “Our findings provide compelling evidence that U.S. GBPs have been ineffective at deterring gun crime, firearm-related homicides, or firearm-related suicides in the short- or long-run.”

Even more troubling, the same research also found a small increase in gun-related crime after a gun buyback due to the perception that there will be less law-abiding citizens with firearms to defend themselves.

Steve Roundy drops off a weapon to Salt Lake City Police officers during a buyback for those who wanted to take their firearms out of circulation Saturday, June 11, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The data is clear that GBPs don’t prevent or reduce firearm-related crime, homicides or suicides and may, in fact, increase crime temporarily.

GBPs are a gross misuse of taxpayer dollars when unwanted firearms can be voluntarily surrendered at any time and at no cost to police. Furthermore, the firearms bought back through a GBP are not those typically used in crime and about 25 percent are not in working order.

Don’t Double Down

Pew Research also reports suggestions have been made to increase GBP financial compensation to incentivize criminals that would otherwise not participate. Knowing that the buybacks don’t prevent crime — and in some cases may even embolden criminals — it’s irresponsible to frivolously squander government funds at an even larger scale on a program that patently does not produce results.

Rev. Jerome Starling, left, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, second from left, Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes, second from right, and Miami Assistant Police Chief Jorge Colina, right, look over rifles that were turned into Miami police during a gun buyback program held at the Jordan Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Tax dollar impact aside, some GBP advocates even suggest following the “Australian model” of GBP, which refers to the late 1990s national gun confiscation conducted by force. This move would destroy the tenets of the Second Amendment for a promise of a reduction in gun crime that will never come to be.

Wasteful government spending may be in vogue now, but doubling down on the compensation for surrendered firearms knowing full well it will not reduce crime or disarm criminals is ridiculous. A better use of those taxpayer funds would be supporting and funding firearm safety courses for firearm owners. Incentivize firearm safety and proficiency with those same funds.

With over 14 million new gun owners in the past two years, it is imperative to encourage and provide firearm safety to everyone eager to learn rather than throwing money at a disproven solution that benefits no one.


Salam Fatohi is Manager, Legislative and Policy Research for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. 

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