Opinion: Gun buy-back days are an empty gesture


Daily Post Editor

In the wake of the Florida high school shooting, the momentum behind more gun control laws is growing. I’m not going to take sides today on the gun control issue, but I think it does a disservice to the sincere people who want more restrictions on firearms to think that a gun buy-back event is going to solve anything.

A number of San Mateo County residents have formed a group that is going around to cities in San Mateo County asking for money to hold a gun buy- back day.

San Carlos, not a town known for gun violence, is contributing $50,000. Redwood City, San Mateo and Belmont are donating $5,000 and Woodside is giving $10,000 and possibly more. Menlo Park will vote on a possible donation in the next few weeks.

I’m sure the people behind this effort are well meaning, but academic research has shown that gun buy-back programs are ineffective at reducing gun violence.

The guns that are turned in are either old or of poor quality. For instance, a family discovers that grandpa held on to a gun he got in World War II and it has been sitting in his attic for 70 years. Now his family wants to get rid of it.

These buy-back events don’t get many 9 mm semiautomatics, a common weapon used by criminals.

Why? Criminals are the people least likely to turn in their weapons, research has found.

“The theory underlying gun buyback programs is badly flawed,” a 2005 report by the National Research Council found. The report examined many gun buy-back programs and found they had no impact on crime whatsoever.

But a gun buy-back day has a strong “feel good” factor. It makes the people involved feel as if they’re solving a problem.

For politicians, it’s a cheap photo-op. The TV stations will show up, get video of the old guns people are dropping off, and get a soundbite from some politician or law enforcement figure. The TV reporters won’t ask hard-hitting questions like, “Mr. Sheriff, were any crimes committed in your county by criminals wielding muskets like this one?”

Some of the people who run these gun buy-backs are savvy to the argument I’m making here. So promoters, when questioned, will say these events help rid the community of guns that might injure a child accidentally or be used in a suicide. That’s fine, but what does that have to do with preventing mass shootings like the one in Florida?

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].