Gun Buybacks Don't Seem To Significantly Lower Gun Crimes or Gun Deaths

The policies don't accomplish much more than putting money in some gun owners' pockets.


Since Australia's much-lauded (and much-overstated) gun buyback in 1996, various American localities have tried the same thing, selling the move as a way to lessen gun violence and crime.

But a new study—the first one looking closely at the specifics of buybacks in America—indicates that the policies don't accomplish much more than putting money in some gun owners' pockets.

The study, issued this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research, was conducted by economists Toshio Ferrazares, Joseph J. Sabia, and D. Mark Anderson.

Armchair reasoning based on a basic understanding of human incentives can't settle the question, the researchers explain. Perhaps buybacks will take enough guns out of the hands of marginal criminals to lower crime. On the other hand, maybe people will use the money they get selling crummy old weapons to the government to buy newer, better ones. Or "if criminals believe law-abiding citizens (and potential victims) are relinquishing their firearms, then they may be more willing to commit gun crimes."

So the researchers examined 339 buybacks from 1991 to 2015, in 277 cities and 110 counties. One city—Worcester, Massachusetts—had 14 buyback rounds, and just 53 percent of the cities they examined had only one. So this seems to be a practice that authorities seem to want to keep going back to the well on.

Controlling for "demographic, socioeconomic, and policy controls measured at the county and state levels" that might affect the gun crime and gun death rates no matter what was going on with buybacks, the researchers concluded that "with 95 percent confidence, we can rule out gun crime declines in the 12 months following a [buyback] of greater than 1.3 percent and gun crime declines of greater than 2.2 percent" more than a year after they happen.

They also found that in the immediate two months following a buyback, jurisdictions saw "an increase in incidents of firearm-related crime. The 7.7 percent increase in gun crime…is relatively modest, suggesting at most, two additional gun crimes." They saw no corresponding increase in non-gun crimes in those two months. Breaking down the distinction between violent and nonviolent gun crimes, they found no evidence that buybacks lowered either in the short or the long run.

They broke down the data by demographic groups too, and they found no benefit for any specific group. Indeed, they found "short-run increases in gun crime for those ages 18 to 23…individuals over age 35…males…females…and African Americans."

When they broke their data down to specific places, they did find "significant declines in the rate of gun crime" after buybacks in the Ohio cities of Cincinnati and Columbus. But "in each case, the effect is rendered statistically indistinguishable from zero following the inclusion of a second year of post-treatment data." So the positive effect didn't last long.

So much for gun crimes—what about gun deaths? There too, buybacks don't offer much to recommend themselves. The researchers' probe into the data found "no evidence that firearm-related suicides and homicides declined in the the years following" a buyback, and "no evidence that firearm-related deaths fell relative to non-firearm related deaths" after one either.

They also checked whether a bigger buyback was more effective than a smaller one, and they found no reason to think so. And most buybacks "have a very small effect on the local supply of firearms."

Each specific buyback tended to eliminate 1,000 or fewer firearms, "with city governments generally paying gun owners between $25 to $200 per firearm"—though some went as high as $450 for certain rifle types.

More than half those who sold a gun back still had another gun at home. And more than half of the guns sold were inherited or gifted to the seller to begin with. So if you want to believe we need more, bigger buybacks that somehow only target those who would have used their guns to harm others or themselves, you can keep believing it. But so far, the social science shows that gun buybacks as they actually can be constitutionally executed in the United States do little to reduce gun crimes or gun deaths.

NEXT: Is 2021 the YIMBY Movement's Time to Shine on Capitol Hill?

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  1. It's almost as if people don't turn in guns they were planning to use.

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    2. there cant be a gun buy BACK unless cops sold the. guns in the first place.

      Criminals dont participate in buy backs. This is just a lame Leftist gun grabber meme.

  2. Since when has a government program been judged on its effectiveness?

    1. Not in the last 200-years; that's for sure.

    2. Not since 1945.

  3. Covid mask buybacks should be next.

  4. You can get some good deals by trawling the lines at gun buybacks.

    1. I've bought some really nice guns at buybacks. Amazing what you can get for $125 in cash as opposed to a $100 gift card from the local store.

  5. 300 million firearms. 30K deaths per year. Roughly 1 in 10000 firearms are used where an actual death occurred. So 99.99% of all firearms every year are not used like that. No wonder it doesn't show up in the stats.

    1. I did similar math assuming that EVERY SINGLE GUN INJURY in a year was done by a different person. If that were the case (and clearly it isn't), it was still far less than .001% of gun owners.

    2. Not to be pedantic, but it’s not even half that. The latest data I can find is 40,000 firearm deaths, with 25,500 of them being suicide or accident. So 14,500 gun murders out of 300,000,000 guns. Your chance of being shot to death is about the same as dying in a car accident. And that’s on the whole. There are some particular life choices that skew those odds considerably.

      1. Have you deducted legally justified shootings like when cops shoot a non-black criminal or a person uses it for self-defense?

        1. You forgot to add "against a non-black aggressor" to your self-defense scenario. Self defense against blacks is racist.

          1. Violent black on white crime is ‘reperatioms’.

  6. Yeah, the good old days when you could pick up a few SKS rifles at the gun shop for under $100 and walk them down to the buyback and double your money or more. The trick is to be quick so you can make several trips before the gun shop runs out of stock.

    The sad part is that's probably why SKS's are so hard to find and much more expensive now. Nice handy rifles. Maybe a refreshed SKS in a more modern caliber like a 6.5 Grendel would be nice.

    1. 7.62 x 39 is fine. And during runs on .223 it is usually still available.

    2. they dont jam like US made crap ( exc Kel Tek)

  7. Perhaps buybacks will take enough guns out of the hands of marginal criminals to lower crime. On the other hand, maybe people will use the money they get selling crummy old weapons to the government to buy newer, better ones.

    Only to people who fail to understand human nature because there's a paycheck in it for them for failing to do so.

    Criminals don't turn in guns. Not even shitty ones.

    The ones with shitty ones can't buy a better one - that's why they have a shitty one - and the ones with good ones don't need to worry about the money.

    1. Plus, we have laws preventing criminals from buying guns - so where are they going to buy a gun from with the proceeds from a gun buyback.

      1. Such laws do not seem to be enforced effectively.

    2. Thirdly, less than 200 dollars for your shitty gun gets you a used Taurus. Maybe. If you fork over another 75 out of your own pocket.

    3. cops need guns to plant as evidence. buy them back wash the numbers claim it was stolen

  8. The same people who thing they can buy "back" something they never sold also think there is such a thing as "an assault rifle".
    A whole year of no one teaching English has not improved this nation.
    Newspeak was the true terror of 1984.

    1. Hey! Teechers done be doin gud job teechin stuff.

  9. If you ever see the pictures the police proudly display, it's usually a bunch of old revolvers with the odd piece of military surplus that isn't actually a functional weapon, but looks vaguely scary so gets included.

  10. The State working as a shitty fence always ends well.

    Shoot the Archer. Not the Arrows. Or the Bows.

    Keep the provably violent locked up, and it's amazing how much the violent crime rate drops.

    1. wrong. the whole system is screwed. 94 % recidivism rate. more failure is not the answer

  11. Upgrade money.

  12. If these people cared about lowering gun crime then a little thing called Operation Fast and Furious wouldn't have happened

    1. cops want crime. it pays !

      1. So much so, that in many localities they never "have time or staff" to respond to such mundane calls as shots having been fired where no one was injured or, simple burglaries, or trespassing, etc.

        They are always "too busy" because of murder, rape and active, armed robbery responses. Even in bucolic suburbs where such occurrences are in the single digits annually.

  13. Whe the founding people reserve the right to bear arms.

    Now all you Nazi's can just go F-OFF or prepare yourself's to be met with an armed citizenry DEFENDING their individual rights.

  14. Amazing.
    Almost as if criminals don't want to sell their illegal guns to the Government.
    I wonder why?

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  16. Gun buybacks are a good way to get cash for a broken inoperable firearm. That is about it.

    1. I bought a $100 ATI shotgun NIB several years back, just because it was so cheap and I figured why not.

      That you get what you pay for, it turns out, is doubly true of guns.

      I wonder what I could get for it in a buy back?*

      *still do not understand how this works; if the cops didn't own it to begin with, how do they "buy it back?"

      1. Don't bring logic into this!

        I just received my stimulus letter from the POTUS. He provided me with this great gift according to most.

        No mention of the taxes I've paid and will pay and how this "stimulus" is really just a loan with the implicit IOU that I have to pay it back, and lots of other people's, in future years.

  17. "the positive effect didn't last long"

    That is not what that data means. When you look at multiple variable and slice them up multiple ways like that (looking at a bunch of cities separately), statistical variability means that you will inevitably find some correlations. E.G. "In 3 cities blond women over 35 were more likely to commit suicide in the 6 months following a buyback".

    This kind of exercise can be useful for identifying areas for investigation, but not for drawing conclusions. As they go on to detail in this case... The results usually disappear when further, properly controlled study is done.

    Without further study, this sort of "digging through the data" is not science... And it is known by dericive names that conjur scientific misconduct... Names like p-hacking and cherry-picking.

    Any time you see something like this.... A test measure applied across a large group... In this case entire cities.. and then they present the data not in terms of the entire group, but in terms of selcted sub-groups... You came safely bet that you are being deceived.

    This is true if you are being sold on the antioxidant properties of some new superfood... Or if you are being pimped the benefits of gun buybacks.

    1. Here is a list of examples of p-hacking cases in the medical literature.

      This is a field where such statistical manipulations are much more rigorously policed than in the social sciences... Yet the practice is still all too common...

      1. And of course, XKCD explained it better.

    2. next to last paragraph. coronavirus science

    3. You mean that correlation doesn't equal causation?

      Say it ain't so.

      Or better educate the news media. ;-(

  18. "Since Australia's much-lauded (and much-overstated) gun buyback in 1996..."

    Sorry. It wasn't a buyback, it was confiscation.

  19. Need to trade is some old junk guns so I can get a shiny new one.

  20. The "problem" with buy backs is that, up till now, they have been voluntary. Just a way for someone to pick up a couple hundred bucks for something they don't even want, or maybe make themselves feel good for "doing the right thing."

    Now when the government makes these mandatory, and the courts are willing to issue general warrants [one of the main things that pissed off the colonists, I believe] that allow the police to go into any home any where at any time for any reason...then you'll see a difference!

    1. "come on in. theres a case of 223 in the oven on broil!"

      1. canada tried confiscation according to a fmr cannuck neighbor. it failed. the country was too large.

  21. What this really shows is that market forces work (duh). If the buyback programs offered to buy firearms at or above market-clearing prices, they'd probably be a lot more successful. For example I own half a dozen firearms most of which are collectibles and are each worth considerably more than $200-$450. But I'd be happy to sell most of them - if the price were right. And in all likelihood so would other gun owners.
    Would that help reduce the number of firearms sitting in storage were they could be stolen or misdirected? Probably.

    1. It would certainly help new gun sales. Of course, firearms sales are already through the roof since we have a bunch of Marxist gun grabbers in office.

    2. "stolen"

      Bingo, bingo, bingo!

      When a buyback program is announced, usually with a "no questions asked" policy, how many stolen guns end up getting turned in.

      More importantly, how much did home burglaries in the immediate area spike after the announcement but before the actual event?

      It can pay to be a thief. The government might even encourage it.

  22. How can government buy back something it never sold me?

  23. Buying back guns sure helped save lives in Australia.

    1. and led to a repressive dictatorial government.

    2. The number of registered firearms in Australia is reported to have returned (2017) to pre-ban (1996) levels. And that's just legally registered.

      No accounting for the many Aussies who said "F this" and hid theirs rather than turning them in.

  24. Gun buybacks indeed have little effect. The only way to effectively deal with the gun violence epidemic in America is to completely repeal the Second Amendment. But too many politicians allow themselves to be bribed by the NRA and the gun lobby for this to occur. One can only hope that the New York suit is successful and that the NRA will be disbanded.

    1. How is it that the NRA has that much influence on politicians.

      Is it any worse for the NRA to offer a mobilized voter base than say, either of the two political parties? Or, the damn unions?

      If you're going to say it's all about money, well here in CA, the teachers union outspent even big oil on lobbying in the last year. The NRA didn't even make the top ten.

  25. Gun rights are the canary in the coal mine.
    When they evaporate, it shows that the government wants monopoly on the use of force against its ~~citizens~~ subjects.

    1. ^^ THIS; Very, very well stated..

  26. 1, The article is dead wrong (lying) about the gun buyback in Australia, which, combined with new laws, reduced gun murders by 60% and overall murders by 50%.
    2. Gun buybacks by cities in America fail because you just have to go to the next town to buy your guns. That is why universal background checks are essential. Police in Chicago, Mexico, and Canada report that most guns seized in crimes originate in the US,from places with lax or no gun regulations. For instance, in 41 states anyone can buy AR-15s with no background checks thru online hookups through armslist or gunshows. It is of course illegal for a private seller to sell to someone known to be disqualified, but without background checks, there is no way to know this, so criminals, terrorists, and the violently insane can come from regions or nations with stricter regulations (or buybacks) and buy with no monitoring whatsoever.

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