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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gun buyback

This weekend, the Coalition of California Cities and Gun By Gun are hosting an anonymous gun buyback:

Saturday, Dec 14

9AM - 2PM
1060 Tennessee St 

I'm no gun advocate - far from it - but assuming that the purpose of these buybacks is to get dangerous criminals to turn in their guns and reduce crime, do these things actually work?

Reading their FAQs, I'm not even sure that Gun By Gun thinks that their efforts are effective at reducing gun violence. Basically all I can tell that the gun buybacks do is a) take guns out of the homes of people who've bought them legally so that thieves who break into those homes don't find guns to steal and then use in a subsequent crime, or b) pay criminals to steal guns from people's homes.  If a gun that has been stolen gets turned in, of course the thief isn't going to use that money to buy another gun when he can just go out and steal one.  After turning in a gun (or five) and getting $100-200 each for it, does that change a criminal into a law-abiding citizen, or does he just go out and steal more guns, use them in crimes, and then wait until another gun buyback to get paid again for stealing them?

An oft-cited case in favor of gun buybacks is the massive one that happened in 1996 in Australia when it banned semiautomatic and automatic firearms and implemented a mandatory buyback of the newly banned weapons.  The results of the buyback show that while firearm suicide rates fell drastically, the drop in homicides as a result of the buyback was more difficult to show statistically.  But even though firearm suicide rates have fallen, the Australian Bureau of Statistics numbers show that suicides overall haven't, meaning people are just finding other ways of killing themselves.

So even if you allow that the nationwide buyback in Australia reduced firearm suicides and is a reason to do buybacks here, it's still significantly different than the small-scale gun buybacks we have going on here.  To match the scale of the Australian effort and be able to expect anything positive to come out of it, we'd have to see the buyback of 40 MILLION guns in this country. 

In the wake of the Newtown, CT shooting last year, NPR pulled out a study from the mid-90's that seems to show they don't do much, writing,
A Harvard University study dating from the mid-1990s concluded that buybacks were largely ineffective in reducing gun violence because they weren't getting the right kinds of weapons off the street.
"The upshot of that study was that gun buybacks were listed in the category of what doesn't work."
The Daily Beast cited a 2004 report by the National Research Council that found “The theory underlying gun buyback programs is badly flawed.”  

So why continue doing them?

Los Angeles Times op-ed called gun buybacks little more than a public relations move: “Really cutting down on the bloodshed will require meaningful legislation and tougher enforcement. That’s harder to pull off than a gun buyback program: Good PR almost invariably is simpler than good policy.”
And what about the cost?   Gun By Gun, who is putting on this weekend's buyback, gets funding from private donations.  But according to the Daily Beast article,
... successful buyback programs can be extremely expensive for local governments. “Let’s say you pay $100 per gun, and you get 2,000 guns,” says Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. “That’s $200,000—would it be money better spent elsewhere?” 
Are places with stricter gun laws actually safer?  Do they have lower crime rates, specifically murder rates?  Legislators may be quick to tackle the problem by restricting the sale of certain types of firearms, thinking this is the right path to take, but does the research show this to be true?

From Boston Magazine,

In an independent research paper titled “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?,” first published in Harvard’s Journal of Public Law and Policy, Don B. Kates, a criminologist and constitutional lawyer, and Gary Mauser, Ph.D., a Canadian criminologist and professor at Simon Fraser University, examined the correlation between gun laws and death rates. 
“International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions [have] all too often been afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative,” the researchers wrote in their introduction of their findings.

In the 46-page study, which can be read in its entirety here, Kates and Mauser looked at and compared data from the U.S. and parts of Europe to show that stricter laws don’t mean there is less crime. As an example, when looking at “intentional deaths,” or murder, on an international scope, the U.S. falls behind Russia, Estonia, and four other countries, ranking it seventh.  More specifically, data shows that in Russia, where guns are banned, the murder rate is significantly higher than in the U.S in comparison.  
“There is a compound assertion that guns are uniquely available in the United States compared with other modern developed nations, which is why the United States has by far the highest murder rate. Though these assertions have been endlessly repeated, [the latter] is, in fact, false and [the former] is substantially so,” the authors point out, based on their research. Kates and Mauser clarify that they are not suggesting that gun control causes nations to have higher murder rates, rather, they “observed correlations that nations with stringent gun controls tend to have much higher murder rates than nations that allow guns.”
So if gun buybacks and stricter legislation aren't the answer, how do we make our streets safer?   Improving enforcement is one way.  Another is giving people alternatives to crime so that they can feel useful and appreciated.  This means improved education and jobs training.  The problem is that these are difficult, time consuming, and don't come with a nifty flier and PR campaign.

In 2011, Supervisor Cohen supported legislation that amended "the San Francisco Police Code by adding Sections 4511 and 613.9.5 to add findings to ordinances: 1) requiring a handgun to be kept in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock; and 2) prohibiting the sale of enhanced-lethality ammunition."  In response to the Newtown shootings, in 2013 she sponsored legislation that amended "the Police Code, Section 615, to require firearms dealers to report to the Chief of Police the sale of 500 or more rounds of ammunition in a single transaction."  And just last month, legislation she sponsored was signed by the mayor that amends "the Police Code to ban the possession of large capacity magazines for firearm ammunition; require that dealers advise persons purchasing a firearm of local firearms laws; establish a rebuttable presumption that the owner who has not reported the theft or loss of a firearm as required by law remains in possession of the firearm; modify certain requirements for ammunition sales; and prohibit the operator of a shooting range from allowing minors to enter the premises.

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