Gun Buyback Program Myths

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Gun by back programs, started during World War 2 in which the military purchased thousands of qualifying shotguns, rifles, and sidearms for use by Civil Defense units and for training purposes. One of the largest buybacks in history was the 1996 Australian Buyback in which over 600,000 firearms were purchased by the government from its citizens. The huge number was a result of most types of firearms being banned in that county the same year, and thus made illegal. Since the assault weapons ban in the United States, many organizations and cities have had their own buy backs with the publicly stated purpose of reducing the number of unwanted firearms on the streets and thus cutting back on crime. These programs have gained momentum in the past decade with agencies offering as much as $200 in gift cards (often donated by local businesses) for each firearm turned in-- no questions asked, with the harvested firearms being destroyed.

Overblown Headlines

Modern gun buybacks in the United States have been the subject of sensational headlines in the media. One Connecticut buyback brought in a semi-automatic Vulcan M-11-9 style pistol to the headline, "New Haven Gun Buyback Brings in Military Weapon," and the quote, "These have no purpose outside the military except for killing and murdering people." Never mind the fact that no military unit in the world issued an M-11 and it was consistently misidentified as a MAC-10.

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The original caption of this picture by Nick Ut, AP is “Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck holds up a rocket launcher taken as part of a cache of weapons received as part of a weekend gun buyback program at Los Angeles Police headquarters in Los Angeles on Monday, May 14, 2012."  

The rest of the story that is not explained is that it is not technically a real launcher. It is a mockup of the US Army AT4 antitank weapon. M136 AT4 launchers are marked with color-coded bands. A black with yellow band indicates an HE anti-armor round (early models had a solid black band). A gold or yellow band indicates a field-handling trainer; no band indicates an M287 9-mm tracer bullet trainer. Note the yellow band and the word "TRAINER" stenciled across the top of the tube. This is a clearly an inert, non-firing trainer, often sold surplus online and at gun shows for about $100. It has a half-inch hole drilled into the one-piece, fiberglass-wrapped tube that makes it incapable of firing even a potato. The headline for the overall article was “L.A. gun buyback yields rocket launcher, assault weapons

What really is taken off the streets?

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The pictures of the "791 handguns, 527 rifles, 302 shotguns" shown in the most recent LAPD gun buyback shows a number of Mosin M91 series rifles, break action single shot shotguns, old Savage, Stevens and Mossberg rimfire autoloaders, and a plethora of Saturday night special pistols such as Bryco 380s, Lorcins, Rohm 38s, and Titan .25s. Almost all of these on the open market go for $40-$60 in working condition and are often derided as being 'junk' by collectors. In the LAPD buyback, the program offered $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and $200 for assault weapons (by California's definition.) The fact that an estimated 3-million firearms remain in Los Angeles means that the huge haul of over 1600 firearms bought by the LAPD represents only 0.05% (five hundredths of one percent) of the Angelino armory. Odds are, it was the bottom portion.

Luckily, in most of these programs the funds used for the gun purchases come from business and personal donations and not from taxpayer dollars.

Benefits of programs

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For those gun owners who have no use or desire for a particular firearm anymore and want a quick payday can look to a buyback program to make more than the arm is worth.  In a recent Chicago program where 5500 firearms were purchased, a pro-Second Amendment group collected 65 broken or otherwise largely worthless firearms and sold them to the Chicago Police Department for $6,240 in gift cards. These included five BB guns, ten pre-1898 relics, and a shotgun held together with duct tape. The group plans to use the funds to support a shooting program for local youth.

For the sake of argument, in my collection of about 30 firearms I have an old Winchester 1300 that I obtained as part of a trade. The Winy has a broken stock, pitted barrel, and malfunctioning action. If I tried to sell it on gunbroker or in the local boards, I would be lucky to get $20 for it. However, I could take that same piece to a local buy-back and get $100 for it, which could be used towards a new shotgun.

Occasionally these buy backs garner museum pieces or items of historical interest that may otherwise be lost to history. In once case a handgun thought to be carried by Teddy Roosevelt up San Juan Hill was bought back from the streets for $20.

On the bright side, all of the firearms by definition would appear unwanted or unneeded in the home they came from and their absence is not making said home less protected. However, as seen with Australia's gun buyback program, no matter the scale of the buyback and the legislation involved with it, there will always be firearms in the hands of criminals. I hope that we can keep a few in the hands of law-abiding citizens to help even the balance.


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