Texas county making a million-dollar mistake with its plan for gun "buybacks"

Texas county making a million-dollar mistake with its plan for gun "buybacks"
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Gun “buybacks” aren’t worth spending a penny on, much less a million dollars, but commissioners in Harris County, Texas are getting ready to drop a boatload of cash on a series of compensated confiscation events that they promise will somehow make the Houston metropolitan area a safer place.

Harris County commissioners approved a plan this week to spend $1.1-million to conduct eight gun “buybacks” across the county. Gun owners can hand in shotguns and some rifles for $100, pistols for $150, or so-called “assault weapons” for $200, while non-functioning firearms can earn someone a $50 gift card (though the turn-in events won’t be paying out cash for any “ghost guns”). That’s a lot of money to shell out for something that will do nothing to reduce violent crime, but Harris County officials are still trying to argue that these events will have some intangible benefits.

While crime experts say there is little to no evidence gun buyback programs actually reduce violence, some county officials say taking guns out of the community is worthwhile.
“If you’re measuring it by did the crime rate go down, then no, there’s no empirical evidence that a gun buyback program will drive down the crime rate,” said Jason Spencer, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s chief of staff. “It’s an opportunity to highlight a crisis in our community of gun violence. And we believe it does have the potential to save someone from becoming another victim of gun violence and that makes it worth it to us.”
Here’s a question for Spencer: would it still be “worth it” to the sheriff’s department if the $1.1-million were coming out of their budget? Or is it only “worth it” because it’s not their money that’s being spent?
According to the sheriff’s department, the buyback events will be focused on underserved communities and those most affected by gun violence, with each event being held within ZIP codes that have experienced the most gun fatalities.
That raises another question: does Spencer really believe that the good folks living in bad neighborhoods really want or need a million-dollar campaign to “highlight a crisis” in their community”? Wouldn’t it be far better to actually spend that money on something that will make a difference to those individuals instead of wasting money on a soundbite solution that only benefits the politicians who’ll earn some taxpayer-subsidized headlines praising them for “taking guns off the street”?
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, said he agrees with research demonstrating gun buyback events are unlikely to help reduce crime.
“If your objective is to take crime guns off the streets, they’re not effective at all,” Lawrence said. “Criminals don’t tend to sell the tools of their trade for a couple hundred bucks. If your objective is to take cheap, broken guns off the streets, then they’re probably pretty effective. People will do that all day long.”
Researchers who published a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “Have U.S. Gun Buyback Programs Misfired?” in May found such events are not effective when they are voluntary and offer low rewards for guns that may be worth more.
 And yet none of that is stopping the commissioners from moving forward with their boneheaded plan, which tells me that this effort has far more to do with public relations than actual public safety. Taxpayers in Harris County should be livid that their money is being wasted on these gun “buybacks”, especially given the fact that commissioners are spending a million dollars on ineffective programs while they’re preparing to slash the sheriff’s office budget by more than $40-million. These buybacks won’t make anyone any safer, and those budget cuts are likely to make high crime neighborhoods even more dangerous than they already are.