Despite the overwhelming evidence that gun buy backs (more appropriately called turn-ins) do not affect violent crime, these anti-gun ceremonies continue to be a feature of the American political landscape. In July, Rep. Donald M. Payne introduced the “Safer Neighborhoods Gun Buyback Act,” which would squander a whopping $360 million “for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2020” on a turn-in scheme. Two months earlier, Los Angeles held a buy back that collected nearly 800 guns. In perhaps a tacit acknowledgment that the turn-in held no public safety value, Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the event, “It gives us an opportunity to state our cultural values.”
The U.S. federal government, and American pro-gun and anti-gun researchers have long understood that gun turn-ins do not work as intended. However, recent comments from a pair of Australian researchers show this scientific consensus spans the globe.
Australia is in the midst of a National Firearms Amnesty that runs through September 30. During the campaign, Australians may turn-in illegally held firearms without fear of prosecution, or in some cases register or sell unlawfully possessed firearms if the guns are eligible for civilian ownership.
Speaking with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, gun control advocate and University of Sydney Associate Professor Philip Alpers expressed a disdain for gun turn-ins. Alpers noted, “All the research studies show that very limited, unenforced amnesties like this one produce no measurable decrease in violent crime. You can't prove they reduce death or injury.” Commenting on the political character of turn-ins, Alpers explained, “They are the politician's favorite feel-good gesture and they generate really useful media images of guns being destroyed.”
Griffith University Senior Research Fellow Samara McPhedran, a skeptic of gun control, shared a similar sentiment. McPhedran suggested that Australians would be better served by “a very focused approach particularly on disrupting criminal activity, and holding offenders to account.”
McPhedran’s comments are in line with a piece she wrote in June concerning the national amnesty. In that item, McPhedran explained, “Australian and international evidence suggests the people who respond to amnesties are characteristically ‘low risk’: they are not the ones likely to be involved in violence.” Further, she implored her readers to “be realistic about what amnesties are, and are not, likely to deliver.”
All too many U.S. politicians could use a dose of reality when it comes to gun turn-ins. Of course, given the mounting evidence against these programs, it is likely that many of the gun control advocates that still support them are altogether indifferent to their futility. As Garcetti and Alpers alluded to, these conspicuous events allow anti-gun activists and politicians to indulge their penchant for virtue signaling.