Gun Buybacks: Why Are We Bothering With This Nonsense?

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Is there anything American society loves more than empty gestures? Every time you see a Facebook page that promises to save a kid with cancer if it gets 100,000 likes or a pass-it-along email that promises food for Africa if enough people forward it to their grandmothers, you have to wonder why people are so entranced with this new-age slacktivism.

One of the worst examples of this is in the many gun buyback programs we’ve seen in American cities from Newtown to Orlando. Every year a few more cities join in the fun, promising money, shoes, gift cards, and other enticements to get people to turn in their firearms. To make sure they don’t just serve as a way for law-abiding gun owners to get some quick money for old rifles, they promise that no questions will be asked. This, of course, just turns the local police department into a cheap fence, giving gun thieves a perfect opportunity to unload their inventory without worrying about the consequences. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do much else.

Despite their growing popularity, impartial researchers say that these programs do not make cities safer and they do absolutely nothing to curb gun violence. Among the more effective programs, these experts say, are targeted police surveillance and efforts to intervene when it comes to known criminals. Even tougher gun laws, the studies show, are more effective than gun buyback programs. The latter is the last thing we need as a country, but it goes to show just how superficial and meaningless these programs really are.

Of course, the primary argument for buybacks is that they “raise awareness.” This has become one of the most widely-used justifications for expensive campaigns that do almost nothing for the cause. It is why people wear ribbons to work instead of donating to a charity. It is why women show their bras on Facebook instead of actually doing something to help fight breast cancer. And it is why police departments around the country are jumping on the buyback bandwagon. No, it doesn’t do a thing to cut down on gang violence or make suburban homes safer, but boy don’t all those guns look great on the evening news!

And this, indeed, is the primary reason why these buyback programs will continue to flourish in the face of logic, statistics, and reason. Your local police department knows that trading the latest Reeboks for AK-47s isn’t going to do anything about crime in the city, but they also know that it presses that button that can pacify both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives see it as the empty gesture that it is, but they take solace that the focus is on something relatively meaningless instead of on paring back the Constitution. Liberals love nothing more than heartstring-tugging charades, so gun buybacks are right down their alley. Everyone’s happy.