You may recall that back in August, the news got around that the city of Honolulu decided to replace their Smith & Wesson service pistols with Glocks and, according to news reports, effectively forfeited $575,000 in the process. Why did the city take a $575,000 hit? Because that’s the money they we would have made if they had sold the S&W pistols to gun dealers who then would have resold the booty to law-abiding gun owners. “By destroying these guns,” said the NRA, “the city is throwing away taxpayer money over the irrational fear that these guns will end up on the streets of Honolulu.”
It just so happens, by the way, that the streets of Honolulu are the safest streets of any major city in the United States. So maybe the cops in Hawaii know something about public safety that the NRA doesn’t know. But either way, the NRA has long campaigned for reversing any policy that makes it more difficult for civilians to own guns, including policies that result in guns being taken off the streets. And now that NRA Nemesis #2 (aka Hillary) has mentioned a national buy-back program as a campaign issue, you know the NRA will pull out all the stops to fight against buy-back programs of any kind.
The argument over whether buy-back programs are effective has droned on for years, but I would like to suggest two reasons why it’s difficult to connect specific buy-back programs to any change in gun crime. First, most buy-back programs are carried out in a specific city or town, so the fact that some guns from a particular locale are turned in really doesn’t affect the ability of the bad guys in those places to get their hands on more guns. Second, buy-back programs are usually conducted on a sporadic, one-time basis, which makes it difficult, if not impossible to gauge the effect of such activities on violence or crime. And it’s pointless to use national buy-back programs in countries like Australia and Brazil as litmus tests for what might happen here – different culture, different crime environments – cross-national comparisons simply don’t work.
But I’m going to tell you about a gun buy-back program that does work, and it’s the program run in Worcester, MA, called Goods for Guns and yesterday it resulted in just under 250 guns, including 121 handguns, being exchanged for gift certificates to local merchants and stores. Now you might think that 250 guns in a city the size of Worcester (population: 180,000) is a paltry sum. But you have to go beyond the raw numbers in order to understand what this program means.
First, the buy-back not only took place in Worcester, but in sixteen surrounding communities, some of them located thirty miles or more away from the city’s core. Second, this program has actually been conducted every year since 2002, with the gun total now standing above 2,500 weapons collected over the past fourteen years. This doesn’t mean that the program cleanses Worcester and other towns of privately-owned guns; what is does mean is that the issue of unsecured guns is on everyone’s mind. Because the fact is that unwanted guns tend to be unsecured guns, and unsecured guns get into the wrong hands. And by the way, Worcester has paid out roughly $125,000 for those 2,500 guns. That’s peanuts compared to the medical costs of treating people injured by guns.
Know what the homicide rate is in Worcester? 3.8. In Springfield it’s 11 – three times as high. Two cities of similar size, similar demographics, similar disadvantaged neighborhoods where violence abounds. I’m not saying that the difference is because Worcester does a buy-back program every year whereas in Springfield it happens every third or fourth. What I am saying is that a regular, organized buy-back program is an effective tool for dealing with gun violence, no matter what the 2nd Amendment crowd would like you to believe.