California has almost every gun control law imaginable on the books, but for some reason criminals just don’t seem to care too much. Homicides in the city of Los Angeles soared last year, and so far this year hasn’t been any better, with the number of shootings up 88% in the first two months of 2021 and homicides up 39% compared to the first two months of 2020.
City leaders have responded in varying fashions. Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon has been more vocal about “tough-on-crime types” and the conservative media who are reporting on the recall effort underway to remove the far-Left prosecutor than he has violent criminals, while LA Mayor Eric Garcetti is turning to a tried-and-true strategy for politicians; doing “something” rather than something that works. In this case, Garcetti is bringing back a compensated confiscation program to several Los Angeles neighborhoods, though the mayor calls it a “gun buyback”.
Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in his COVID-19 briefing Tuesday that a gun buyback event would take place Saturday at the Van Nuys Masonic Building Association, 14750 Sherman Way, and at Volunteers of America Los Angeles, 5200 S. Central Ave., in South Los Angeles.
“It’s a symptom of the spillover of the psychic toll of this pandemic,” Garcetti said. “There’s more guns and more ammunition that’s been purchased in 2020 than in a long time, but you can create a safer city by joining me at our annual anonymous gun buyback.”
One problem for Garcetti: there’s absolutely no evidence that these compensated confiscation events actually make anyone safer. That’s not exactly breaking news either. For decades now researchers have been looking for some sign that “gun buybacks” reduce crime, suicides, or accidental shootings, but as USA Today reported way back in 2013, the evidence just isn’t there.
Researchers who have evaluated gun control strategies say buybacks – despite their popularity – are among the least effective ways to reduce gun violence. They say targeted police patrols, intervention efforts with known criminals and, to a lesser extent, tougher gun laws all work better than buybacks.
The biggest weakness of buybacks, which offer cash or gift cards for guns, is that the firearms they usually collect are insignificant when measured against the arsenal now in the hands of American citizens.
“They make for good photo images,” said Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, based at the University of Wisconsin’s law school. “But gun buyback programs recover such a small percentage of guns that it’s not likely to make much impact.”
The relatively small number of guns recovered isn’t the only problem, Scott said. Buyback programs tend to attract people who are least likely to commit crimes and to retrieve guns that are least likely to be used in crimes.
Scott and others say violent criminals – the people who do most of the shooting and killing – steer clear of buyback programs unless they’re trying to make some quick cash by selling a weapon they don’t want anymore.
That means buyback campaigns more often end up with hunting rifles or old revolvers from someone’s attic than with automatic weapons from the trunk of a criminal’s car.
“They don’t get a lot of crime guns off the street,” said Matt Makarios, a criminal justice professor who studied buyback programs while at the University of Cincinnati in 2008. “You’re only going to reduce the likelihood of gun crimes if you reduce the number of guns used in crimes.”
There are two basic strategies for reducing the number of guns used in crimes; trying to reduce demand or trying to reduce supply. Gun “buybacks” are a supply-side intervention, and one that’s doomed to failure for the reasons noted above. Personally, I believe that any supply-side gun controls are going to be ineffective in a nation where the right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in our Constitution and more than 400-million firearms are possessed by American citizens, but gun control activists who hold the fundamental belief that “more guns equals more crime” are convinced that we can ban or buyback our way to safety.
I have no idea how many guns will be turned in this weekend, but I’m confident that criminals aren’t going to be flooding the LAPD with illegally acquired firearms. Los Angeles (and California more generally) needs a new strategy to tackle its growing violence; one that doesn’t depend on disarming law-abiding citizens in the hopes that there’ll be a trickle-down effect on criminals.