NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Gun Buy-Back Programs Have Little Impact On Crime

June 15, 2000

Gun buy-back programs are politically popular, and generate little opposition from gun rights groups. But recent studies have called their effectiveness into question.

According to the studies, the programs have no effect on violent crimes or firearms deaths, and the guns and owners that turn out for buy-backs represent neither the types of guns or people involved in gun crimes. Furthermore, some who participate in the buy-backs are cashing in on spare weapons, but keep at least one at home -- or plan to use the proceeds to buy another gun.

  • Independent follow-up studies in Seattle, Sacramento, St. Louis and Boston found no evidence buy-back programs reduced gun crime.
  • In Seattle, a check of coroner's records and hospital admissions data for the six months after a 1992 buy-back found no evidence of an effect on firearms-related deaths or injuries.
  • The number of weapons collected represent a tiny fraction of the nation's arsenal, with 220 million guns now in civilian hands, and another 4.5 million new ones added each year.
  • According to Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, "The continuation of buy-back programs is a triumph of wishful thinking over all the available evidence."

Guns used in crimes are typical modern, up-to-date, semi-automatic pistols, while weapons turned in during buy-backs are overwhelmingly older guns, such as revolvers, which in some cases don't even work. According to a study by criminology professor Richard Rosenfeld of the University of Missouri-St. Louis:

  • In Sacramento, 59 percent of buy-back participants said they had additional guns at home.
  • In St. Louis it was 62 percent, and in Seattle 66 percent.
  • In St. Louis, 14 percent of participants said they planned to buy a new gun within the next year, and 13 percent said they might.

Finally, gun owners who turn in weapons tend to be middle-aged or elderly. Street criminals tend to be adolescents and young adults.

Source: Mike Dorning (Chicago Tribune), "Studies Fault Gun Buy-Back Effects," Dallas Morning News, June 11, 2000.


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