"Virtue signaling of the worst kind": Wisconsin sheriff candidate rips into boss's gun "buyback"

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Research has shown that gun “buybacks” don’t reduce crime or accidents involving firearms, but they do tend to generate some positive press for the politicians who host them thanks to local media who are generally happy to report on the number of guns “taken off the streets.” In Dane County, Wisconsin, however, a recent compensated confiscation event has become a campaign controversy pitting the current sheriff against a longtime detective in the agency who’s running to be the county’s top cop.

Current sheriff Kalvin Barrett was appointed to the position last year by Wisconsin’s Democratic governor Tony Evers, and he’s facing a challenge in his bid for a full term from Anthony Hamilton, who’s currently a detective in the sheriff’s department and has worked in the agency for 14 years. On Wednesday afternoon Hamilton tore into Barrett’s decision to spend $50,000 on a recent “buyback”, telling reporters that the effort was a waste of time and money.

The buyback on Saturday collected 333 long guns, among them 11 assault rifles; 95 handguns; 93 pellet, BB or paintball guns; one crossbow pistol; and 55 homemade weapons. Participants also turned in 380 pounds of ammunition.

“This event was virtue signaling and political theater of the absolute worst kind,” Hamilton said, standing in Olin Park in Madison next to two damaged stolen cars that he called “a symbol of the failure of political infection in policing.”

“That money could have been better spent to make a real difference and save lives,” the candidate said. “Nearly all of these guns were handed over by older white women. Not the demographic the sheriff said he was after.”

Other resources could go to serving the “hundreds of arrest warrants sitting at the files at the Sheriff’s Office,” Hamilton added.

Despite the fact that studies have shown no evidence that these compensated confiscation events lead to a reduction in violent crime, suicides, or accidents involving firearms Barrett is standing by his decision to hold the buyback, and in fact is calling it a success.

In an interview, Barrett said he doesn’t think the issues should be approached as “we have to do one or the other.”

“We’re taking a holistic view to what we can do,” the sheriff said. “We should be celebrating the successes of the gun buyback. We should be proud of the results because we saved lives. That is what we should be doing right now instead of focusing on what is going back and forth at press conferences.”

It’s not a matter of doing one or the other, it’s about not wasting time and finite resources on something that has no impact on violent crime whatsoever; though it’s interesting to me that the sheriff either wouldn’t or couldn’t confirm if there is a backlog of warrants waiting to be served in Dane County. Instead, Barrett claimed without a shred of evidence that his “buyback” saved lives before chiding reporters that they shouldn’t be paying attention to what his political opponent is saying.

I won’t pretend to know all of the local intricacies of this particular sheriff’s race, but I do know enough about gun “buybacks” to come down firmly on Hamilton’s side here, and I’m glad to see him calling out his opponent for spending tens of thousands of dollars to take unwanted guns from legal gun owners when the department should be focused on taking violent criminals off the streets instead.