While doing some research on the academic findings on the futility of gun “buybacks”, I found this statement from the “Freakonomics” web site: “When it comes to gun buybacks, both the theory and the data could not be clearer in showing that they don’t work. The only guns that get turned in are ones that people put little value on anyway. There is no impact on crime.” This bit of wisdom dates from from 2009. And it’s not particularly unusual . . .

Academic studies are in agreement that gun “buybacks” do nothing to reduce crime, and that police resources used for them could be better spent elsewhere.

But some say that energy could be better put to use in other ways. Alex Tabarrok, research director of the nonpartisan Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., said investing in buyback programs makes little sense when study after study shows they don’t work.

A few researchers believe buybacks may even do some harm: A 1999 article in the Law and Order journal found that some people sold guns to police during buybacks and then used the money to buy new guns.

It’s ironic that the quote above equates buying “new guns” with harm. It reinforces my theory that the only significant effect of the gun buybacks is “to send a message”, that is, for political propaganda. The message is clear: guns are bad and should be turned in to the police.  The very term “buyback” is misleading. The guns were never owned by the people doing the buying, so they cannot be “bought back”. It implies that all guns are only legitimately owned by the government.

That theory does a good job of explaining why buyback proponents become so incensed when it’s suggested that guns taken in during the events be sold to responsible parties, either licensed dealers or individuals who undergo background checks. And suggesting that the proceeds would be used for charity or public benefit doesn’t seem to satisfy them.

Selling the guns would appear to reinforce what those promoting the buybacks want – government oversight of those who purchase guns. But for some reason they don’t see it that way.

Selling the guns sends a different message, one they’re not interested in furthering: guns are valuable resources that many people find useful.

Buybacks, which I prefer to describe as turn-in events, are on the decline. Much of this is due to the increase in private buyers who show up, money in hand, asserting their rights and spoiling the message of “all your guns are belong to us”.  The only places where buybacks are flourishing are those states that have effectively banned private sales of firearms, such as New Jersey and California.

Even those promoting a disarmed population are distancing themselves from buybacks.  This email message from Washington Ceasefire president Ralph Fascitelli was unearthed in a freedom of information request in Washington State:

“I wish you guys would … have talked to us/CeaseFire about this before moving forward,” Fascitelli said in an email to King County Executive Dow Constantine and a Mayor’s Office staffer. “The overwhelming research shows that buybacks generally don’t work well and are a waste of resources and are mocked by the NRA.

‘Nuff said.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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54 Responses to Freakonomics and Gun “Buybacks”

    • That’s Phoenix PD in the background. AZ law requires the city to sell the guns through licensed dealers.

      So don’t cry, that Ruger will soon be back plinking cans and nailing jackrabbits in the desert.

      • Yes, Jason…true. But it was unfortunate that the state pre-emptive law you refer to was only passed AFTER the last Phoenix and Tucson ‘buy-back’ events. Still, many scored themselves good deals, stopping cars before they ever made it to the waiting line for the turn-in. Hah!

  1. But it makes people feel good and that’s all that matters. It’s also mindlessly easy which is why lazy incompetent mayors like the one in Milwaukee support them. Challenging the culture in the inner city and challenging the soft on crime justice system would require work.

  2. I saved a Romanian PAR-1 from this fate a while back. It has been a curious firearm for the most part.. Pump action-AK and all. Clumsy, but surprisingly accurate as hell.

    • If you ever decided to do so, it costs basically nothing to convert it to semi. Remove the pump hardware, drill the gas port in the FSB/GB, and install a standard piston in the carrier. The gas tube and lower handguard from any Saiga rifle (you can find these castoffs from conversions for sale easily) will work without issue. Now you have a Saiga-SAR

  3. “All your guns are belong to us”

    HAHAHAHA that was a hilarious translation from whatever game it was.

    Anyone ever been to an auction by the local police dept.? I have not but wondered if they ever bought some good stuff…

  4. “The only places where buybacks are flourishing are those states that have effectively banned private sales of firearms, such as New Jersey and California.” Private sales are not effectively banned in NJ. As long as the buyer has a Purchase Permit, an FID card and a driver’s license with matching addresses, I can sell him a pistol face-to-face without a background check. I then send a copy of the permit to the State Police, keep one as proof of sale and give the buyer one for personal use and one to turn in to the issuing PD. Not onerous, annoying but not onerous. The FFL’s hate it because it chisels them out of their transfer fee.

      • Pistol Purchase Permits are good for one pistol only, have to be applied for in advance with local police dept, and expire 90 days from when they’re issued (although usually they can be extended if the police dept. isn’t grumpy). However, there’s another NJ law that limits pistol purchases to one every 30 days.

        Rifles and shotguns are exempt from the permit process – as long as you and the seller have FID cards and fill out a COE (Cerfificate of Eligibility) form then everything is legal and no one except you and the seller knows about the transacation.

      • One handgun per permit (which expires in 90 days) and one handgun purchase per month, unless you get a multi-handgun exemption that requires knowing all of the make/model/serial numbers in advance (and takes several weeks to get approved).

        Rifles/shotguns requires only the possession of an FID and completion of two copies of a Certificate of Eligibility (retained by buyer and seller). No limit on long gun purchases so you can pick up 100 of them at once if you wanted to (assuming they are not banned by name or feature).

    • You define this as not onerous? In my state (WA) to buy a pistol (or a 100 pistols) from a private seller, I give them the money (or trade, or whatever) and they give me the pistol. I assume both of those steps occur somewhere in you “not onerous” procedure, but they are kind of lost in the noise. The only thing to buy here that approaches the complexity that you’ve related is buying real estate. And that is complex mostly as a result of its extreme value causing an over abundance of caution.

      OH, and WTH is an FID card and why would someone need one?

  5. I saved an M1 Garand, serial number indicates it was built in December 1944, from being turned in.

    Co-worker said he was going to turn in a gun due to the urging of his wife. He was always buying golf-clubs so I asked him why he didn’t just sell it to buy clubs. He said, it would be a hassle, just easier to turn it in. I asked him what it was, he said M1, I asked how much he’d ask for it, he said $150, I said Sold!!!

      • I’m really glad I saved it, it is a bit of history. And it shoots very well (the barrell was shot and I had it replaced with a GI barrell, but the receiver was perfect. The gunsmith who rebarrelled it only worked on M1s; he offered to buy it off me to build a match rifle), in fact just had it out with my son shooting it over the D-Day weekend. No idea what the history is of all the component parts, I’m assuming various bits have been replaced over the years. But, a very reliable and solid 70 year old piece of equipment.

    • And I had to have the poor fortune to work with pro-gun coworkers who knew that every Garand made was worth more than $150.

  6. “… The only places where buybacks are flourishing are those states that have effectively banned private sales of firearms, such as New Jersey and California.”

    Private sales of firearms are definitely *NOT* banned in New Jersey. I just purchased a rifle face-to-face in NJ earlier this month, completely legally. Both the seller and I filled out a NJ “Certificate of Eligilibility” form for which we both kept a copy (the copies are for our records only, nothing is sent to the police, NJ state or feds). After filling out the forms I gave him cash, he gave me a rifle and everyone was happy.

    • Thanks for the correction. Perhaps some private buyers will show up at the next “buyback” offered in New Jersey. Do you think they would have any problems? In some places police have discouraged private buyers, often with erroneous information.

      I also read of a group that found a friendly FFL to accompany them to a “buyback” in California, so they could accomplish legal sales at the site.

      • I’ve looked into showing up as a private buyer at a buyback. There are some legal pitfalls that have dissuaded me from doing so:

        – Unless you have a carry permit (which NJ doesn’t grant to private citizens) pistols can’t be legally transported to any place except to “exempted locations”: owner’s home, owner’s place of business (and you have to be *THE OWNER* of the business, not an employee), a range/competition, or a gunsmith. Thus, if I tried to transact to buy a pistol outside a buyback, they could conceivably charge either the seller or me for possession outside of an exempted location.

        – Long guns can be carried (unloaded and inside a “secure package”) anywhere (aside from federally prohibited places like schools/post offices) *IF* you have a valid FID card. If you don’t have a valid FID card, you’re limited to the exempted locations for pistols as above. If I’m trying to buy a long gun at a buyback from a seller who found it in their basement and doesn’t have an FID card the seller could conceivably get charged with possession outside of an exempted location, although I’d probably be safe as I have an FID card.

        NJ buybacks grants immunity for “possession outside exemptions” if the seller is participating in a buyback, but that immunity may not extend to “loitering” in the parking lot if I’m trying to talk them into selling to me instead.

        • “- Unless you have a carry permit (which NJ doesn’t grant to private citizens) pistols can’t be legally transported to any place except to “exempted locations”: owner’s home, owner’s place of business (and you have to be *THE OWNER* of the business, not an employee), a range/competition, or a gunsmith.”

          So it’s illegal to take them to the buy-back event…. makes sense.

      • Yes, it would be a problem because the buyer would have to have a Permit and the seller would need to give name & address and turn in the permit copy to the State Police. Most of the people at turn-ins want to remain anonymous. The real problem to me is you have no way of knowing if the gun you are buying was ever used in a crime.

  7. If they actually conducted these things in my state, I’d set up shop in the same parking lot and offer a better price than the cops could.

    • When Seattle did its buyback [sic] last year, I went over to check it out (it took place across the street from my apartment), but the cops were packing up early, because turnout was minimal. There were a few guys with “cash for guns” signs, but they weren’t getting any business either.

      I am disappointed that I missed seeing the guy show up with the rocket launcher.

  8. When Australia banned semi auto rifles, they called the confiscations buybacks. No doubt this is a government assertion not only they own all guns, they own everything that you possess, even your home, car or bank account. Property rights is a fundamental plank of a free society. Without property rights, there is no economic or personal liberty.

    • Of course when the government “buys back” your home by force, they simply classify it as eminent domain and state that it’s “for the public good.”

      I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see eminent domain law being used to forcefully “buy back” private property such as firearms, “for the public good.”

      • Taking guns through condemnation is possible, but “just compensation” would have to be paid to every owner in accordance with the Fifth Amendment. That’s a whole bunch of money anywhere. And there’s still that pesky Second Amendment thingamabob.

  9. 95% of the guns turned in at buybacks are junk or non functional. Once in a while you see a WW2 collectable, a SKS or in one picture of a buyback, a mint condition No1 Mk 4 Enfield. That is a great loss to see a bit of history get melted down.

  10. Had a Hi-Point I had given back to me(long story) that I couldn’t give away. My local pawn shop guy said he saved ’em up for the yearly Chicago buyback “event. I sorta’ wished I’d kept it. I couldn’t run snap caps through it and I sure didn’t attempt taking the gun down.

  11. you know, none of these ever starts without a lot of firearms that the cops bring with them, like a shill, to draw others. So I wonder how any actually come out of the evidence lockers

  12. Buybacks are a way to get rid of sub 100$ guns for a 100$. Back when they gave credit card gift cards 3 junk guns(all 3 bought for less than 100$ combined) the 200$ profit was used to buy a new GP100.

    • Yeah, I have kept 2 junk guns waiting for a buyback, guess they’re not popular in TX. One is over 100 yr old .22 single, my late stepdad fed his family with it during the depression, when he was 12-15, worn to the point of dangerous (went off, for real, no finger on trigger, promptly retired), the other late father-in-law’s gun, probably never fired, a .38 Spl that you have to remove the cylinder from the gun to load/unload, action feels plated with sandpaper, most horrendous firearm I’ve ever handled, bet it cost around $2 new. I turned in the ammo (probably 60 years old, lead ball) to the local police for disposal. I would just LOVE to get $200 bucks I don’t even need from a buyback funded by Soros or whatever, for those two examples.

  13. Gun “buy-backs” DO have value…as a propaganda tool for the anti-gun establishment. That’s why they are so heavily advertised with all the usual suspects jumping on board to promote them despite the events’ ineffectiveness at reducing gun crime.

  14. I just saved a Winchester 1873 made in 1875 that was going to go to the next “buy back” from a co-worker. He did not want the hassle after clearing his grand fathers estate. This fine first edition 1873 with thumbprint dust cover and a serial in the very low 7000’s is now mine. Going to get the Cody Center to get a record for it now. I always hate to think what fine collectable firearms are destroyed with the “buy back” charade.

    • So COOL! Great that you were able to hear about it and get it before it met a tragic demise. So often it is hard to persuade someone to sell instead of giving to buybacks.

    • This is the sort of thing that makes my blood boil.

      When I hear of someone turning in a gun like this, I question their sanity and ponder aloud in front of them whether I could petition the government to get them declared mentally incompetent.

      One old gal got real huffy when I called her stupid for turning in her (dead) husband’s guns. I knew only one of his guns – a nice Winchester Model 12 pump gun. When I told her that her husband’s 12 was worth at least $800 (this was several years ago), she looked at me with utter disbelief. She wasn’t a well-off woman, and quite likely could have used that cash. I hope she felt sick at how much money she lost by giving away those guns to some bunch of idiot cops doing a PR job. I can understand women might not like guns, and might want to get them out of the house. What I can’t understand is when women decide that they’re going to just give away hundreds to thousands of dollars of personal property for chump change. And cops are willing, if not eager, participants in this bilking of old women.

      Yet another thing I want in statute law: Cops participating in gun “buybacks” shall be charged with fraud in the inducement.

  15. I’m ok with these kinds of sops to liberal politicians and the local cops who have to put up with their local pol’s nonsense.

    It is a nice “green” way to get junk off the street, and by putting the cops in charge of the collection and resale at auctions, where market rules and competion will put useful firearms back in circulation.

    And if the local cop shops make a few bucks for administering it, so much the better. The cops can use the money for their training programs to shoot better, and respond to mentally ill people, when requested by family members requests as approved by judicial order for welfare checks, on the nutjobs like Rodgers and Lanza and Holmes, where family and the shrinks haven’t otherwise been able to help the public be safer.

    We knowledgeable gun owners know this is a lot of hot air, but if doing this gives pols a chance to glad hand and prove to their nitwit progtard supporters and the low info voters that “they are doing something to get guns of the street”, then its a win-win again, by keeping those pols from doing real damage to RKBA otherwise.

  16. That picture is from Pheonix Az. If those are guns from a buy back, then the people along the street before the turn in point buying the guns didn’t want them, or the people turning them in did not want to sell them. Either way, they have to be sold to dealers for resale by law here in Az.

  17. The picture is from one of the very last turn in events before the law went into effect. The Mayor and police chief went to some effort to insure that the guns were destroyed.

    They must not have been proud of it, though, because they did not advertise the destruction or make a big photo-op of it.

    We are winning.

  18. “The guns were never owned by the people doing the buying, so they cannot be “bought back””

    You mean government not people.
    I really enjoyed freakanomocs and super freakanomics. Thank you.

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