Originally published in The Economist.
Apr 27th 2013 | CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS | From the print edition
EARLIER this month, as Barack Obama stepped up the pressure on Congress to pass gun-control legislation that eventually failed, Rhode Island officials were mounting their own campaign to curb gun violence, by offering to buy back their constituents’ firearms.
America’s smallest state held a gun buy-back day on April 6th that netted 186 firearms—97 shotguns and rifles and 89 handguns—collected anonymously from owners who were compensated with gift cards valued at $50 to $200, depending on the make and condition of their guns. Several companies, including SIMS Metal Management, a recycler, paid for the event, and the guns were to be melted down. Angel Taveras, the mayor of Providence, said such events were “one way for local governments to remove unwanted firearms from our streets”.
It was hardly the first programme of its kind, but gun buy-backs appear to have proliferated since the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December, in which 20 children were killed. Cities in Arizona, California, Maryland and New Jersey have hosted such events since then, some bringing in record numbers of weapons. One buy-back in Los Angeles saw two rocket-launchers turned in.
Critics say gun buy-backs, which have been around for decades, fail to cut gun violence because they remove relatively few guns from communities, and anyway only bring in guns that are not very likely to be used in crimes. A grandmother clearing out her attic might hand in “some relic from the 1920s”, says Robert Cottrol, a professor at George Washington University Law School. “Who cares?”
Criminals, too, may well be less willing than the law-abiding to part with their guns for the sums offered at buy-backs. “There are good reasons to believe mischief-makers value guns more than people who want to buy them for self-defence,” says Daniel Polsby, dean of George Mason University School of Law. “So it’s utterly silly.”
But buy-backs have changed with the times, and some experts say they may be a bit more effective today than they once were. They now may include advertising campaigns aimed at young people, or extra incentives to hand in certain types of guns, such as assault rifles. And as Mr Taveras says, if even one killing is avoided, a buy-back day is worth it.
From the print edition: United States