With the gun control movement running for the hills nationwide, opponents of the Second Amendment have taken comfort in the fact that many of America's largest cities remain solidly in the anti-gun camp. In such places, it's not uncommon for local government officials to initiate so-called gun buyback programs where police purchase weapons citizens bring in, no questions asked.
Basically no one who studies firearms policy believes these initiatives actually work to reduce crime or take guns away from criminals. Research by the DOJ and even Harvard University have discounted the effectiveness of buyback programs. Just a few months ago, the liberal Boston Phoenix alternative newspaper ran an article that contended they enable criminals to afford newer, more deadly weapons. Most of the time, the bulk of residents selling their guns are older, as are their firearms--not exactly the kind of people you'd see engaging in armed robbery.
All of this information can be easily found on the internet. Surely the District of Columbia, which hosted a buyback program over the weekend, was aware of it. One would hope that at least one person at the Associated Press or the Washington Post knew that gun buyback programs don't work, or that they'd at least have the journalistic inclination to look into how effective such initiatives are. But hard-hitting, thoughtful local reporting isn't exactly in high supply in America's newspapers today, to say nothing of research critical of liberal shibboleths.
Had both reportorial skills been in higher supply in the D.C. media, perhaps the Post and the AP would have been able to write something more than a press release for the local government--supposedly something they're against when it comes to President Bush. As it is, neither outlet saw fit to interview a single critic of the buybacks or cast any kind of doubt on them. The Post even went so far as to headline writer Allison Klein's piece, "Residents Cash in Guns for Piece of Mind."
Here's an excerpt from Klein's "report." As you can see, a lot of local toughs were in attendance:
Francinina Jones grabbed her husband's long shotgun, the one he became attached to during years of hunting, and marched straight to the police station in Southeast D.C.
"I wanted the gun out of the house," said Jones, 55, who lives in Southeast and traded the firearm for a $50 payment from the city. "There's too much killing, all these young people have guns."
Jones and hundreds of others got cash for guns as part of the police department's gun buyback program, which yesterday netted 337 firearms and paid area residents about $16,700.
Those who turned in guns at one of three District police stations tended to be middle-aged or older people who had firearms lying around the house and no longer had a use for them. Many said they did not want them to be stolen or involved in an accident.
"You're not going to get the guy going around robbing people on the street turning in guns," said Cmdr. Joel Maupin, who is in charge of the department's 7th District in Southeast.
If police can reduce the number of guns in homes, they can cut down on the likelihood they will make it to the street, Maupin said.
The department paid for the weapons with $250,000 it received as part of the emergency crime bill the city passed in July in response to a spike in homicides, robberies and other crime. [...]
Taft Wallace, 71, showed up with a .38-caliber pistol and a .25-caliber semiautomatic. They belonged to his brother-in-law, a retired police officer who lives in Southeast, he said.
"He's got grandchildren floating all over the house," said Wallace, who had just gotten $200 for the weapons and was being escorted to his car by an officer. "He wants them out." [...]
Yesterday, several people said the guns they sold to the city were inherited.
Robert Greene sold a .38 Special and a post-World War I Italian derringer. He got the derringer from his late mother, who he said "had it around the house." Greene, 58, who lives in Southeast, said he heard about the program on TV and decided to come in.
Another woman, who declined to give her name, said she was uneasy driving to the District from Wheaton with her late father's shotgun and rifle. She had them wrapped in a quilt, and asked an officer to go to her car to retrieve them because she didn't want to handle them.
The woman said her father, who died two years ago, had lived in the Eastern Shore and used the guns for hunting.
"I didn't want to carry them around," said the woman, 42. "I was nervous all the way over here."
Nearly every study done on buyback campaigns shows that they are an ineffective way to take the guns police are after off the streets. The commissioner who presided over Boston's legendary drop in crime, Paul F. Evans, said years ago that, dollar for dollar, cop for cop, buybacks aren't the way to go. In Boston's 1993 buyback, almost 75 percent of the guns turned in were pre-1968 firearms, a Harvard study found.
Buybacks have a made-for-TV appeal that's hard to resist: One gun, one life. A decade ago, they took off with an almost game-show popularity: Guns for food, guns for therapy, and in one Illinois town, buns for guns, where the prize was a free table dance at a strip club. Now buybacks are making a comeback, not just in Boston but in a few other cities as well.
Taking any gun off the street is a worthwhile goal. And buybacks can serve an important function to galvanize neighborhoods, giving ordinary people a chance to own the problem and build trust with police. But with limited resources and a balance of power that seems dangerously tilted toward the bad guys, it's clear that the money and man-hours involved could be put to better use in other, more proven strategies.
Volokh also takes some issue with my AP critique. I actually wasn't initially going to include them in my post but a look at the last graf of the AP report made me think that it was at least something of an attempt to provide some context for the buybacks. A short sentence about how "some experts question the effectiveness of buybacks" would have sufficed.
I doubt that the police department was giving sermons on the virtues of buybacks, however, the entire event was staged which means that simply reporting it without some sort of critical information is not good journalism in my opinion.
Update 23:28. While buybacks are bad from a policy standpoint, they're pretty good for gun owners and collectors wanting to pick up a bargain from unwitting boobs or unload defunct weapons. David Hardy gives details here.