Gun buy backs, or how to throw money at a problem . . . and miss

I see that Washington D.C. has recently implemented a gun buy back. Using $16,700 in tax revenue, 337 guns were collected (the program offered $100 each for semi-automatic pistols and so-called “assault weapons,” $50 each for other firearms, and $10 each for BB and pellet guns). Doing the math shows that the average price paid per gun was just under $50, or just under the smallest amount offered for any real firearms–meaning that a large plurality of these guns were BB and pellet guns. The streets of DC should be much safer now, eh?

This buy back was actually somewhat better than others I’ve read about–at least the guns are tested to determine if they could be linked to any crimes before they are destroyed. Many other buy backs are completely anonymous, meaning that the police are not only helping criminals by destroying evidence of their crimes, but they’re paying the criminals for the privilege!

The truly unfortunate aspect of these buy backs is that they are such a poor allocation of scarce monetary resources that could otherwise be used in ways that would do so much more to make communities safer. Instead of buying guns from people who had no intention of using them in crimes (or they wouldn’t be selling them), the money could be used to put more officers on the streets, better fund programs that help at-risk inner city youth, fund drug rehabilitation programs, help improve schools, and foster economic development (in order to bring more jobs to blighted inner cities). These are just a few ways of addressing the real underlying social problems–the hopelessness, desperation and anger that are at the root of so much of the violent crime in our cities.

Instead of trying to bribe people into getting rid of a few weapons, we need to cure the social ills that result in people wanting to commit violence in the first place. Addressing these intractable social issues is tough, and patience is needed before much of a return is seen on the investment–but tackling these issues is the only solution that will really work. Too bad tax payers are instead forced to finance “feel good” measures, that contribute merely to the appearance of doing something about the situation.


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