Monday, August 13, 2007

on “gun buybacks.”

Once or twice a year in almost every major city, the police and city government will stage a cute little show called a "gun buyback". Earnest politicians and eager law enforcement brass congregate in front of a bunch of cameras, and pat themselves on the back for sponsoring an event that'll improve public safety, "get guns off the street", and make the violent crime rate plummet.

That, of course, is a bunch of fluffy crap.

Make no mistake—gun buybacks exist for one reason only: to give an opportunity for camera time to mayors and Chiefs of Police of crime-ridden cities, so that those folks may step in front of the cameras and assure their constituents that their elected officials are, in fact, the cat's meow.

Those "buybacks" are never effective. It's the same dog-and-pony show in almost every major city in the country, and it always has the same results. The cops staff a table for a day and offer taxpayer-funded gift certificates or vouchers to the public for each gun turned in, "no questions asked." They always net the same sorry collection of rusty top-break antiques, nickel-plated pot metal pistols, ancient shotguns, and the occasional beat-up .22-caliber rimfire plinker. (During a recent buyback in Boston, the catch of the day was a wood-stocked Ruger 10/22, which the organizers proudly presented as a "very dangerous Ruger 22 assault rifle".)

The problems with those "buybacks" are many. First of all, they're ingeniously mislabeled, as you cannot buy back anything you didn't own in the first place. The implication here, of course, is that all guns originate from (and belong to) the authorities, and that the "buyback" merely returns those weapons to their place of origin. It's a prime example of how language can be manipulated to mold attitudes—repeat the term often enough, and the desired mindset will spread among the target audience.

Then there's the problem of economy. Those buybacks offer a good chunk of taxpayer money for any gun turned in, usually regardless of condition. People use those buybacks to grab a quick c-note or two from the tax pot for their rusty and inoperable sock drawer junk, and we—the taxpayers—are forced to purchase those things at ten times their actual and practical value. The catch of the day then ends up in a smelter or under a saw blade, and the taxpayers get exactly zip for their cash outlay.

That brings us to the problem of effectiveness—some people (usually the organizers) claim that those turned-in junkers are "taken off the streets", implying that this will somehow have an impact on the crime rate. That, of course, is unmitigated bullshit. Criminals and gangbangers who need their guns for their line of work will not turn in their guns for sneaker coupons or Wal-Mart gift certificates. The people who do show up at those "buybacks" are a loose congregation of scrap metal profiteers and scared old grandmas who want to get rid of Papaw's old pistol that's been rusting away in a sock at the bottom of the drawer for the last forty years.

Lastly, there's the problem of Unintended Consequences. Since those "buybacks" offer cash or loot for any turned-in gun, "no questions asked", they are a fabulous opportunity for the occasional real criminal to get rid of a crime gun. The gun will invariably be destroyed, the crook gets a Target gift certificate for his troubles, and the taxpayers have to fund this sanctioned destruction of evidence.

No, those "gun buybacks" don't do anything to prevent crime or increase public safety. Next time you read about one in your newspaper, take it for what it is: a taxpayer-funded Public Relations stunt that's supposed to help make the mayor and his Chief of Police look like they're "doing something about the crime problem."

No comments:

Post a Comment