Gun Buyback Misfires

by on February 25, 2008 at 7:45 am in Economics | Permalink

Oakland’s recent gun buyback was especially ridiculous.  The police offered up to $250 for a gun "no questions asked, no ID required."  The first people in line?  Two gun dealers from Reno with 60 cheap handguns.  Fortunately the buyback did manage to get some guns off the street, too bad they were turned in by a bunch of senior citizens from an assisted living facility.   Whew, the streets are safe at last.

Even putting aside the obvious nonsense, gun buybacks simply don’t work.  In technical terms the supply of guns to Oakland is perfectly elastic so buybacks won’t reduce the number of guns in Oakland.  Here is an analogy from my op-ed in the Oakland Tribune.

Imagine that instead of guns, the Oakland police decided, for
whatever strange reason, to buy back sneakers. The idea of a gun
buyback is to reduce the supply of guns in Oakland. Do you think that a
sneaker buyback program would reduce the number of people wearing
sneakers in Oakland? Of course not.

All that would happen is that people would reach into the
back of their closet and sell the police a bunch of old, tired, stinky
sneakers.

Gun buybacks won’t reduce the number of guns in Oakland. In fact, buybacks may increase the number of guns in Oakland.

Imagine that gun dealers offered a guarantee with every gun:
Whenever this gun gets old and wears down, the dealer will buy back the
gun for $250.

The dealer’s guarantee makes guns more valuable, so people will buy more guns.

But the story is exactly the same when it’s the police offering
the guarantee. If buyers know that they can sell their old guns in a
buyback, they are more likely to buy new guns. Thus the more common
that gun buybacks become, the more likely they are to misfire….

The guns bought in this buyback are destined to be melted down to create a monument.  It’s a shame that this monument will be the only lasting effect of the buyback.

1 M. Simon February 25, 2008 at 8:15 am

The Gun Gods must be placated.

2 es32 February 25, 2008 at 8:27 am

Unclear that you have demonstrated that “Gun Buyback Misfires”. IS there any evidence regarding this issue, other than Econ 101?

3 David Weisman February 25, 2008 at 8:42 am

I think you misunderstand here, supply is not always relevant. Suppose someone has a gun they ‘forgot to return’ to the army when they were discharged twenty years ago. They don’t keep bullets anywhere near it, they don’t even want it, but they’re not quite sure how to get rid of it and don’t have time to think about it. Someday it may be stolen or found by kids (who might conceivably do something bad with it despite the immediate unavailability of ammo). The buyback you describe doesn’t sound cost effective, but the idea isn’t silly.

4 James February 25, 2008 at 8:59 am

Do they use the word ‘sneakers’ in Oakland? I grew up around there, and we called them ‘tennis shoes’. It wasn’t till I moved to New Jersey that I ever heard the word ‘sneakers’.

5 Les Nessman February 25, 2008 at 9:16 am

Dang, I (almost) wish they had that stupid program around here. Go to dealer, or gun show, and buy 10 or 20 or 50 derringers @ 125.00 each; ‘sell’ them to the idiot local gov’t @ 250.00 each. The perfect “double your money” scheme.

Can anyone point to any flaws in my scheme? I’m actually thinking of trying it.
Anyone know of any gov’t ‘gun buyback’ programs in the NE Ohio area?

6 D February 25, 2008 at 9:35 am

well, Les N. The flaw is that they use YOUR tax dollars to buy your gun
from you. Naturally the percentage of that $250 that you pay in is much smaller, so an individual still makes out quite well, but it’s still a bad idea, when
they could use those funds for something better, like another flack
jacket, or gas for a patrol car.

Yeah, this might get unwanted guns off the street, as opposed to guns
criminals have, but they are advertizing that this will prevent crime.
To get unwanteds off the street, they could probably just have a program
that geve people a nice dinner for two, and get as many unwanted guns.
The people who don’t want them, just want to get rid of them.

This is all to show that someone is doing something, even if
the results are not much in relaity.

7 a. controversy February 25, 2008 at 9:49 am

Somewhere in the recesses of academia John Lott
must be shaking his head in disgust.

8 Mesa February 25, 2008 at 10:26 am

Require training, operating licenses, and gun owners liability insurance for all gun owners and all ammunition purchases. Insurance cost/availability will scale with location, type of gun, owner’s criminal history, etc. May be unavailable or prohibitive in some situations. Really stiff penalties for operating, carrying, selling guns and ammunuition without insurance and license after phase in. Cash rewards [$1000] for turning in non-insured/registered gun-owners. Reliable tip is evidence for probable cause of police search of home. After invalid tip, no more rewards.

9 CP February 25, 2008 at 10:57 am

In addition to all else, what a great way to dispose of a crime gun!

10 what February 25, 2008 at 11:05 am

Yes, Mesa, because the criminals who currently disobey laws prohibiting armed robbery and murder will be sure to follow your new laws. The gangstas will be sure to take out the appropriate insurance before scheduling a drive-by.

Were you born that stupid, or did you eat lead paint at a child? And to think you’re able to vote…

11 TomHynes February 25, 2008 at 11:13 am

Instead of complaining about gun buybacks, the NRA should call them “Gun Upgrades”. Offer $100 toward the purchase of a new weapon suitable for a member of the militia with proof that you turned in a clunker. $350 buys you a decent 9mm or pump shotgun.

12 aguy February 25, 2008 at 11:20 am

[i]Reliable tip is evidence for probable cause of police search of home.[/i]

Me: Hey, I heard Mesa is a drug dealer and has guns and drugs and evidence of murders at his home.

Cops: Ok, sounds like probable cause to me, let’s search this scumbag’s home. Who needs the fourth amendment anyway?

13 Brad Hutchings February 25, 2008 at 11:27 am

@James: Yeah, the kids call them sneakers or “kicks”. There is a whole industry around having the coolest sneakers that coordinate with one’s outfits. Check out:

http://www.dunkxchange.com

If the Oakland police showed up at one of these shows with a sneaker buy-back program, they’d have to offer more than $250.

14 Bill W February 25, 2008 at 11:36 am

This post completely misses the real purpose of the buyback: Cops need guns! Maybe their armory budget ran out, but they still had some state funding for this kind of crap. Ergo, gun buyback. So to say that the purpose of a gun buyback is to get guns off the street is just incorrect. The purpose of a fun buyback is to get guns off the street and into the hands of cops. There could be another benefit, as well. What if the cops did ballistics testing on all of the guns that were purchased and were able to solve a previously unsolvable case? How would calculate the value of that?

15 justme February 25, 2008 at 11:39 am

“Suppose someone has a gun they ‘forgot to return’ to the army when they were discharged twenty years ago. ”

Spoken by someone that was never in the military. “Suppose someone had a hundred billion dollars they ‘forgot to return’ to the US Treasury when they were retired twenty years ago.”

About as likely. Hint: the military tracks weapons very closely. During WW2 you might get by taking an M1911 from a dead officer but 20 years ago? Not a prayer.

16 Mesa February 25, 2008 at 11:59 am

Some responses:

1. I’m quite happy to make it difficult for poor people to own guns – that’s where a lot of the problem is. IE they can’t afford the cost of the externalities. If you’d like to subsidize gun insurance for the poor – go for it, but someone should bear the cost.

2. Licensing and insuring things that can be dangerous and cause bodily harm to others happens all the time – cars, boats, etc. I would argue that making it expensive for poor people to drive is a bigger problem than making it expensive for them to own guns.

3. Empowering tipsters is done all the time in law enforcement, in cases where the police force is too small and the situation is dangerous [ie manhunt]. You could require that bogus tips be punished with financial or other penalties. The police could notify the party that had been identified that he had been “tipped” against and give him a chance to refute the charges and/or rectify the situation with 90 days. Either refutation or rectification would result in no charge or crime at all. It doesn’t have to be a battering ram situation.

17 jon amend-all February 25, 2008 at 12:09 pm

What a cunning plan.

Officers will now be able to retire early by cashing in Saturday Night specials they confiscate, and don’t turn in.

The Property Clerk is now a multi-millionaire, but somehow a few of the trial exhibits seem to be missing…

Bangers will be traveling back and forth to Meh-Hi-Co more frequently – bringing back rusty relics from the flea markets and turning them in.

And of course, the “amnesty”, where donors are guaranteed complete immunity from prosecution. Except, of course, that they’re being photographed on the spot, and their plate numbers recorded and keyed to the serial number of the gun. Ooppsss – didn’t they mention that the immunity only covers possession of the gun that day, and that stolen guns, guns used in crimes, guns with altered serial numbers are felonies for which they will come get you? Their bad.

Does anyone else have the gut feeling that the number of guns turned in may “accidentally” not match with the amount of money paid out? 2 reasons:
1. the staff steal the money (OK, you guess that one, but no points – they always do).
2. the staff steal the guns – and get back on line, and turn them in 3 or 4 more times.

18 Michael Johnson February 25, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Am I the only one who noticed they said they would be pay UP TO $250?

Those two words are very critical for anyone thinking of dumping $10,000 or so in cheap handguns to double their money quickly. You may show up and they offer you $50 for the pistol you paid $100 for.

Then you have 100 guns on your hands, and are out $10k. You could always try to sell them to local gangbangers I suppose. 🙂

19 kritter February 25, 2008 at 12:18 pm

Mesa, how happy are you to make it difficult only for law-abiding poor people to own guns, while not affecting criminals, poor or otherwise?

We should force you to get stupid jerk insurance, maybe the light bulb would go on then.

20 wang chung February 25, 2008 at 12:43 pm

“What if the cops did ballistics testing on all of the guns that were purchased and were able to solve a previously unsolvable case? How would calculate the value of that?”

The guns were bought no ID, no questions asked. Linking a buyback gun to a body solves nothing because the shooter is still on the street and still unknown. OPD has a horribe clearance rate on homicides because they can’t get witnesses to cooperate. Oakland needs to hire more cops and enforce the laws on the books instead of wasting money on feel good photo-ops. They’re over $170k in debt for IOUs they wrote for this circus.

21 Mesa February 25, 2008 at 1:18 pm

Although my proposal of gun insurance and licensing indeed makes it more difficult for poor people to own guns, it makes it much easier to confiscate guns from their non law-abiding neighbors by turning them in, and therefore much easier to defend themselves against local criminals. Poor-on-poor is the most common gun crime by far. Also, to the extent insurance on a gun is purchased and that gun is stolen and used to kill people, that insurance pays off to the victims or their beneficiaries, also most likely poor.

22 Just Thinking February 25, 2008 at 1:57 pm

Consider Switzerland. Every male is required to do military service, and keep an automatic rifle, along with a SEALED lot of government ammunition. Army retirees are sold their rifles at discount. Substantial penalties are enforced for unsealing the ammunition without compelling circumstance. Burglars know all of this, of course, as do robbers, etc. Very little violent crime in Switzerland, and Hitler chose NOT to invade, as a direct consequence of these circumstances.

23 shawn February 25, 2008 at 2:05 pm

darn it these italics won’t die!

24 Gun Nut Hater February 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm

All you disgusting gun-nuts posting here should realize that since “gun ownership” is the only right that is well-protected in the U.S. anymore, guns will be banned through the back door. For example, everyone will be placed on a “mentally deficient” list. So while you don’t care about protecting the rights of the criminally accused (“tough on crime”), don’t think that your precious gun rights will be protected.

25 Fletcher King February 25, 2008 at 2:51 pm

Gun buybacks are a ridiculous way for the police to try to lessen the number of guns in the community. What do they think that is going to happen? The criminals that are committing crime on a daily basis are not going to talk to the police even if they are offering them more money than their gun is worth. It may be good for getting stray guns out of people’s households that kids may find in the future, such as the senior citizens, but that is the only case where i could see anything good coming of the situation. I think it is a futile attempt for the oakland police department to slow down crime at all because they are probably to lazy to actually do anything about it.

26 agum February 25, 2008 at 3:46 pm

I can hardly think of a situation more conducive to gun theft than unwanted guns kept in assisted living facilities. Given the frequency with which stolen guns are used in criminal activity, getting them out of senile hands seems reasonably worthwhile to me.

27 Anonymous February 25, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Wake up everyone. Guns are not “bad”. It is the people who use guns for inappropriate pleasures that are the issue. A gun is just that, an object, not good or bad. What I find completely amazing is that we as a society keep deflecting off the real issue by proposing these ridiculous “remedies” for getting rid of guns on the streets, as if that will end the problem of violence and murder. Come on, do you really believe that if all the guns in the world were to be disposed of, that the violence would end? Of course not. That problems would cease to exist? Of course not.
All of these proposals; gun buybacks, insurance, stricter licensing….. are really a waste of our resources and energy. Only law obiding citizens are the ones who really care about these rules.
I’m just sayinnnnn, maybe we should focus on issues such as why people feel such a lack of morals that they would kill someone in cold blood as a form of justice.
I mean I get angry, I get frustrated, sad, lonely…but I would never shoot someone in less it was self defense, a matter of life or death. Most people are also responsible for their behavior. Lets focus on the real issues.

28 Orion February 25, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Let’s dispose of one gun myth:

– When JFK was shot in 1963 gun control advocates demanded action to control the 100 Million guns in America.

– When his brother Bobby was shot in 1968 gun control advocates again demanded action to control the 100 Million guns in America.

– When Reagan was shot in 1981 gun control advocates, now led by Sarah Brady, demanded action to control the 100 Million guns in America.

– In fact, everytime there’s a major gun crime splashed across the top of Page One, the gun control advocates start yammering about the “100 Million guns” in America.

Question: Where do they get this “100 Million guns” number they cite over and over again? Gun makers turn out a couple hundred thousand guns a year: guns don’t really wear out much left in a drawer or a shoebox in the top of the closet. Ammo gets old but bullets are easy to replace. A little oil, a little shine, my grandfather’s hunting rifles are just as good today as when he hunted back in the 1930s (he cleaned his weapons religiously between uses). If there were 100M guns in the US in 1963 shouldn’t there be MORE today? In fact that figure comes from old (very old!) FBI studies that estimated the number of functioning handguns. These were never meant to be all-inclusive and their definition of “functioning” was suspect.

In fact the number of working firearms is probably upwards of 500 Million and if you add in all those that probably wouldn’t blow up in your hand if you tried to fire them you might be looking at a BILLION firearms of all shapes, sizes, and calibers. The idea that any police department could “buy back” a significant fraction of those is ludricous. That buying back weapons prevents crime or accidents doubly so.

29 agum February 25, 2008 at 4:21 pm

It’s unclear to me why anyone would assume the market for _illegal_ weapons has perfectly elastic supply. The lack of open air illegal gun markets suggests that it doesn’t.

But it also seems persuasive that buybacks don’t do enough volume to make much of a difference to prices.

The legal destruction of junk gun manufacturer Bryco Arms in the Brandon Maxfield lawsuit (by an Oakland jury judgment), on the other hand, could well have affected handgun prices. I suppose that’s why the gun manufacturers demanded and received unprecedented lawsuit exemptions from Bush’s Republican congress.

30 wang chung February 25, 2008 at 4:50 pm

“It’s unclear to me why anyone would assume the market for _illegal_ weapons has perfectly elastic supply. The lack of open air illegal gun markets suggests that it doesn’t.

But it also seems persuasive that buybacks don’t do enough volume to make much of a difference to prices.”

There may not be an open air market but it’s close to it if you know where to look. A phone call or two and a couple of hours and a gun is yours on loan from a friend or for cash.

Raising the price of an illegal gun does nothing to staunch the demand, it simply requires those wanting/needing said weapons to find a way to raise more money. How much would you wager that they aren’t working a double shift but are instead commiting robbery, burglary and other crimes to raise money for their now more expensive gun?

These buybacks don’t take guns out of the hands of those most likely to commit crimes.

31 HometownQuotes February 25, 2008 at 5:02 pm

If you want to get guns off of the street, you have to get kids into classrooms. This means you must have parents that are just that, parents. As long as the welfare state exists in this country you will have inner city wastelands like we have had for generations.

32 Ed February 25, 2008 at 5:18 pm

@ToMcA 11:01,

“Require training, operating licenses, and gun owners liability insurance for all gun owners and all ammunition purchases. Insurance cost/availability will scale with location, type of gun, owner’s criminal history, etc. May be unavailable or prohibitive in some situations.”

How many times do you anti-gun nuts have to be reminded, making the lawful ownership of guns prohibitively expensive and onerous, leaves guns primarily in the hands of the unlawful. Look at where most mass shootings take place….in gun-free zones where the shooter knows the victims are defenseless.

I swear…..you’d have to be an idiot to believe that disarming the populace makes us safer.

33 Rex Rhino February 25, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Bottom line: First, close the gun factories.

Just about any modern machine shop is a “gun factory”.

34 noone February 25, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Reason for such move: Police hoped that with guns brought to their location, they would get a clear picture of everyone via CCTV, then run guns for any crimes committed.

35 Jayson Virissimo February 25, 2008 at 6:41 pm

Here in Arizona Big 5 Sporting Goods regularly has sales of old Soviet Mosin Nagants for $69.00 a piece. If I wasn’t so damned ethical I would take a few dozen down to the Oakland PD on my next trip to California.

36 Regolith February 25, 2008 at 7:28 pm

“Question: Where do they get this “100 Million guns” number they cite over and over again? Gun makers turn out a couple hundred thousand guns a year: guns don’t really wear out much left in a drawer or a shoebox in the top of the closet. Ammo gets old but bullets are easy to replace. A little oil, a little shine, my grandfather’s hunting rifles are just as good today as when he hunted back in the 1930s (he cleaned his weapons religiously between uses). If there were 100M guns in the US in 1963 shouldn’t there be MORE today? In fact that figure comes from old (very old!) FBI studies that estimated the number of functioning handguns. These were never meant to be all-inclusive and their definition of “functioning” was suspect.”

There are actually around 270,000,000 or so firearms in circulation today in the United States, according to most recent estimates.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=3533907

37 Wake-Up February 25, 2008 at 7:44 pm

I find it funny that the people who want to get rid of every gun are the first people to talk about how Bush administration is a fascist regime. You want to get rid of your only protection against a tyrannical government…sounds pretty smart to me.

38 Tim February 25, 2008 at 8:25 pm

They should make a law against stupidity, and then the Oakland police would have to arrest themselves.

39 Ed Kricedsko February 25, 2008 at 10:04 pm

No kidding. I just bought a handgun for $170 bucks.

40 lynn February 26, 2008 at 1:01 am

Politicians should lead the gun control fight by example. First, the secret service should turn in their guns. What a terrible example,all those agents running around with guns. What if they accidently shot someone. Second, the Capitol police should turn in theirs, they don’t need to be running around Congress with guns, think about the young pages there they might think it’s cool to carry a gun. Tsk! Tsk! Lastly, local police can turn in theirs. Trained goverment mediators will solve every situation with kind words and understanding and the now former criminals will turn their guns in and we will all live happily ever after. the end

41 Mr. Cynical February 26, 2008 at 2:10 am

My wife and I ran up there, with the intent of handing over an old revolver she’d wound up with. It was an unmitigated fscking disaster. We hit two of the sites, and in each case there was a ~ mile long backup. Note that the three sites were each only funded for 100 firearms per site. After we hit the 2nd site, and saw the lineup, we bagged the trip and headed home.

Oh, and what would the $250 have gone for? Well, that Walther P22 looks mighty purty. ;>

42 Geroge Postin February 26, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Gentleman this is the first step towards confiscating guns in America! That is the agenda by the left so I wouldn’t take this lightly!

George

43 mpkomara February 27, 2008 at 3:05 am

*There are 150 to 200 million guns in the United States, so there are plenty of low-quality guns to be sold. An Oakland gun buyback is like trying to drain the Pacific — every bucket of water you take out is instantly replaced.*

Wrong! The Pacific has 161 million cubic miles of water, or 1.77 x 10^20 gallons. A typical bucket is 5 gallons. For a better analogy (unless you change the size of the bucket to a cubic mile), the amount of guns should be compared to the reservoir in Central Park, New York.

44 Wacos Gun Shop March 14, 2008 at 9:49 pm

I glad to see the people in the assissted living home has some extra money to upgrade to a newer style of gun if they desire to do so.
Waco

45 Joe Blow July 27, 2008 at 12:31 am

What about the collectors? The ones that enjoy firearms for the engineering feats that they are. Look at any third world country with somewhat of an industrial infrastructure. We’ll take the former Yugoslavia for an example. What is the only thing they produced that is worth anything? Well, lets just say, nobody was lining up to buy their cars…

46 Eric November 6, 2008 at 8:43 am

People are missing the point here. Gun buybacks are to get weapons that are unwanted off the street before they are found by people that want them. Burglary is a very common crime and firearms would be a great prize in my mind if I were to ever commit such an act. I can think of a few of my relatives that had weapons that were of no use to them but were still kept in an unsafe manner do to lack of education on gun safety. If the facts of this story are true, the city of Oakland could have made better choices on the way they implemented this program. I live in Milwaukee WI and our gun buybacks did not offer 250 cash. We gave out 50 per weapon and the funds were donated by local businesses and pro-police groups. An even better idea would be to locate businesses that would be willing to donate gift cards for services. I also believe people didn’t get their money until after a brief check was done to insure the weapon was not stolen. Being Wisconsin and having a LARGE population of hunters, Milwaukee did not accept long guns except for working shotguns if I remember correctly. Gun buybacks are not the crime stoppers that some groups or agencies advertise, but done correctly they can be a useful tool to make it harder for weapons to end up in the hands of crackheads, juveniles, or people that don’t have access to more expensive modern handguns. A gun is a gun. Example…..I found two .25 ravens in a basement at age 14. At that time I was…… to put it lightly, an idiot. I ended up being arrested in possession of one of them, thankfully before I could end up using it. A perfect example of how a weapon buyback could have been effective. My grandmother had no use for those weapons, don’t even know if she remembered they were there. But instead of just holding on to unwanted firearms, this is an alternative to the worse. And if anybody is wondering, that arrest changed my life for the better. I am 30, attend college, a candidate for two local law enforcement agencies, served in the United States Marine Corps, and gained massive respect for firearms (PEOPLE, lock, photograph, register or write down your serial #’s, store extra ammo away from firearms, teach your kids about the need, dangers, and damage firearms can cause, and if they are stolen report it to police so the criminal if or when caught will have an additional charge that gives prosecutors less discretion to ignore). In a round about way, finding and being arrested for that pistol was the best thing that could have happened to me. Back to the topic, weapon buybacks are not the magic bullet. They are just a great tool when used correctly. Not to mention that buybacks offer an opportunity for the public to interact with the police in a positive manner.

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So how many wanted street gang tugs are going to be turning in the guns for a pualtry $250 when they can steal more using it THE OAKLAND pOLICE CHEIF MUST BE OUT OF HIS MIND moch loco in the capessa

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