Study Finds No Effect of Gun Buybacks

The Philadelphia Inquirer has this op-ed by Temple University Professor Jerry Ratcliffe and grad student Marc Huffer. Their recently published study adds to the evidence that gun buyback programs are just for show and have no measurable effect on gun crimes. What’s the problem? The programs buy back the wrong guns. The guns the programs buy are brought in by law-abiding folks, while the criminals keep theirs. “Tellingly, Philadelphia’s Office of Forensic Science has never found a National Integrated Ballistic Information Network link to a crime with any gun surrendered in the city’s gun buyback program. Clearly, buyback firearms are not the ones causing such misery in the city.”

That’s consistent with what common sense told us all along, but “never” is a stronger result than I expected.

The citation to the published study is: Ratcliffe JH, Huffer M, Quasi-experimental study finding no localised gun crime or call reduction after gun buybacks in Philadelphia. Injury Prevention. Published Online First: 06 October 2023. doi: 10.1136/ip-2023-044948. Abstract is here. The full text is available on Ratcliffe’s website.

Ratcliffe and Huffer suggest that the money now being spent on buyback programs can be more effectively spent on alternatives. They suggest a consent-to-search program, asking consent of parents of youth deemed at risk, and rewards for tips.

Why are gun buyback programs popular despite decades of research showing they do not work? I suspect that the reason is that a great many people just cannot accept that the true “root cause” of crime is evil people. Phrased differently for those who recoil at that “judgmental” word, the cause is people who have internalized anti-social values rather than pro-social ones, but many people cannot accept that. So blame must be shifted elsewhere, to “the system” or “systemic racism” or “the school to prison pipeline” or inanimate objects such as guns.

“There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.” — H.L.Mencken

“Get guns off the street” is one such well-known solution, and it’s wrong when the guns removed are not the ones causing the problem. Failure to distinguish law-abiding people from criminals is the source of the error.

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