Gun buybacks are events where individuals can turn in firearms to law enforcement, usually with no questions asked, and receive some kind of compensation in return. The overall goal of gun buyback programs is to reduce the number of gun deaths and injuries in a community. It’s often assumed that the objective of a gun buyback event is to simply get guns off the streets. While generally true, this goal is somewhat imprecise as there are a few more specific, intermediate objectives of gun buyback programs that help to understand how they contribute to addressing gun violence.
Key Objectives of a Gun Buyback Program
1. Reducing the availability of guns in a community.
The basic principles of supply and demand support the idea that decreased rates of gun ownership would increase the difficulty or cost for dangerous persons to obtain weapons. This theory is backed up by decades of empirical data, which show a direct and robust correlation between the rate of gun ownership and the rate of gun deaths in a community. More recent data from gun buybacks suggest that gun buybacks are effective in making homes gun-free, reducing the rate of gun ownership within a community.
Key metric: the number of homes that are gun-free as a result of the gun buyback
2. Providing an opportunity for safe disposal of firearms.
While the number of guns in circulation is at a historic high, the rate of gun ownership in the U.S. has declined significantly since its peak decades ago. When a gun owner decides to make their home gun-free, they often find it difficult or complicated to dispose of their guns legally and safely. Gun buybacks provide a straightforward, efficient, and easy way to dispose of unwanted guns.
Key metric: the number of participants who use the buyback event to dispose of firearms.
3. Mobilizing communities, raising awareness, shifting culture.
Gun buybacks create an opportunity and an impetus for individuals to form coalitions, start dialogue, and take action towards addressing gun violence in their community. At scale, this can contribute to cultural changes that are difficult to accomplish through policy. This is particularly true of gun buybacks that are initiated, implemented, and funded by the community.
Key metric: the number of individuals who participate in the planning, promotion, funding, and implementation of a gun buyback.
Best Practices for Gun Buybacks
All buybacks are not created equal: the design and implementation can have a dramatic impact on their effectiveness in reducing gun violence. Since buybacks became popular tool for addressing gun violence in the early 1990’s, learnings on their efficacy have helped public safety experts improve their implementation.
Best practices for effective gun buybacks include:
- Structuring compensation to attract the right guns. The ideal schedule should a) incentivize collection of the most dangerous guns (e.g. a graded system with larger rewards for handguns and assault weapons, and b) avoid incentivizing participation by gun collectors or creating arbitrage opportunities.
- Advertising for buyback events should focus on at-risk populations, including youth, parents, and gun owners who self-identify as being concerned about safety. Partnership with community organizations and institutions to promote the event can improve the participation and impact.
- All guns collected should be destroyed. Allowing collected guns to re-enter circulation undermines objectives of community organizers, and the educational campaigns designed to encourage participation.
- Participation in the event should be anonymous. Municipalities have found ways to require and verify that participants are city residents, while still preserving the anonymity.
- Buybacks should be held in neutral locations, such as community centers and houses of worship, rather than at police stations.
- Community participation in the initiation, implementation, and funding of gun buybacks can improve the secondary impacts of the event. Following these science-based practices for effectiveness, gun buybacks can be a powerful addition to any comprehensive, multi-pronged approach addressing gun violence.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do gun buybacks work?
- How do buybacks prevent criminals from obtaining guns?
- Don't people just turn in old and non-working guns?
- How do you know people aren't just buying more guns with the money they receive?
- What happens to the guns that are turned in?
Do gun buybacks work?
The short answer is yes. On the participant level, they produce material reductions in the likelihood of gun violence occurring in a home. At the community level, we know that they reduce the rates gun violence when implemented at sufficient scale. In Australia, for example, a large scale gun buyback effort reduced the rate of firearm homicide by 59% and firearm suicide by 74% in the years following.
To date, gun buybacks in the U.S. have occurred infrequently and on a relatively small scale. As a result, they have not demonstrated an impact on macro gun violence statistics. We believe that this is not an indictment of the model, rather, a reflection of their limited reach.
Our approach allows gun buybacks to achieve the necessary frequency and scale to deliver results. On top of that, we're collecting unprecedented data on gun buybacks to understand how to improve the way they are implemented and increase their impact.
How do buybacks prevent criminals from obtaining guns?
While buybacks do remove a number of illegal guns from circulation, any gun that is not properly stored can easily fall into the hands of a criminal. Experts estimate that roughly 50% of guns used in crimes are stolen from law-abiding citizens or otherwise illegally obtained. Each year in the United States, there are an estimated 500,000 guns stolen from homes where they were not properly stored.
Don't people just turn in old and non-working guns?
Not in our gun buybacks. We work with range specialists from local law enforcement to inspect each weapon and ensure it's operable. We don't pay people for guns that don't work. Early buybacks held during the 90's used to have this problem, however, law enforcement quickly figured out how to fix it.
How do you know people aren't just buying more guns with the money they receive?
This is an important question. Based on existing research of buybacks and data we've collected, the vast majority of people participating in buybacks are motivated by safety, and don't intend to buy another gun. Because of the way buybacks are structured (and the incentives offered), a well-informed gun owner who intends to buy additional guns could probably find more lucrative ways to sell their gun. We are actively collecting data from the buybacks we fund to ensure this does not change and figure out ways to further improve it.
What happens to the guns that are turned in?
All of the guns turned in at buybacks we fund are destroyed. The specifics of how this happens are usually determined by the local law enforcement, who operates the buyback and assumes possession of the guns collected. Most commonly, the guns are melted down and the scrap metal is recovered.