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Academic Study: Gun Turn-Ins ("Buybacks") Increase Crime committed with Guns
Academic Study: Gun Turn-Ins (“Buybacks”) Increase Crime committed with Guns

U.S.A.-( A study published in May of 2021 has rigorously shown such events do not reduce crime or suicides. Instead, the number of crimes committed with guns increases in the two months after the turn-in events (“buybacks”) are conducted.

The study was published by the National Bureau of Economics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, under the title:


The study authors are:  Toshio Ferrazares, Joseph J. Sabia, and D.Mark Anderson

The term “buyback” is an Orwellian propaganda term. You cannot buy back what you never owned. I corresponded with one of the authors of the study, D. Mark Anderson. He confirmed my interpretation of the term but will keep it in the study. From a private email, with permission:

I also agree with your issue on the term “buyback,” but this is one we will probably leave unchanged.  The reason being is that the economics literature has used this term exclusively.  So, when researchers are interested in the topic, they are undoubtedly typing “buyback” into their search engine and we want our piece to show up in their searches.

The study of the gun turn-in events (labeled as buybacks) is the largest of its kind, both geographically, and over time.  The study used the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) for a uniform and detailed database of crime information. The NIBRS is used by a bit more than one-third of police agencies in the United States, which limited some aspects of the study to those jurisdictions.

The study included gun turn-in events from 1991 through 2015, for a total of 25 years, and 339 events occurring in 277 cities.  41 of the cities had populations over 50,000 and were in jurisdictions using NIBRS.  The study also compared deaths from suicide and homicide captured in the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) for all the cities studied.

The study is the most ambitious of its kind ever undertaken.  Large studies are more credible than small studies. It is better to include data than to exclude it.

Here is the abstract of the study:

Gun buyback programs (GBPs), which use public funds to purchase civilians’ privately-owned firearms, aim to reduce gun violence. However, little is known about their effects on firearm-related crime or deaths. Using data from the National Incident Based Reporting System, we find no evidence that GBPs reduce gun crime. Given our estimated null findings, with 95 percent confidence, we can rule out decreases in firearm-related crime of greater than 1.3 percent during the year following a buyback. Using data from the National Vital Statistics System, we also find no evidence that GBPs reduce suicides or homicides where a firearm was involved.

Not mentioned in the abstract, the study found significant evidence of gun turn in events (“buybacks”) being associated with increases in crime committed with guns in the two months after the event.

From Page 14

Moreover, during the first two months following the gun buyback, we find that a GBP is associated with an increase in incidents of firearm-related crime. The 7.7 percent increase in gun crime we detect in column (4) is relatively modest, suggesting at most, two additional gun crimes.24

From Page 15

Difference-in-difference-in-differences estimates of the effect of GBPs on gun versus non-gun crime, shown in Table 4, control for jurisdiction-specific time-varying unobservables that may commonly affect gun and non-gun crime, such as increased investments in law enforcement community policing. Across the three specifications presented in Table 4, we show that GBPs are associated with a 6.9 percent increase in gun as compared to non-gun crime in the two months following a gun buyback. We find no change in gun versus non-gun crime thereafter. An event-study analysis, shown in Figure 4, confirms that this effect is not contaminated by differential pre-treatment crime trends.

From page 17

In Table 7, explore whether city GBPs had differential effects on violent (Panel I) as compared to non-violent (Panel II) gun crime. We find no evidence that GBPs significantly reduced violent or non-violent crime in either the short-run or longer-run. Rather, we find holding a GBP is associated with short-run increases in firearm-involved robberies (Panel I, column 2), weapons law violations (Panel II, column 2), drug violations (Panel II, column 3), vandalism (Panel II, column 4), and kidnapping (Panel II, column 5).28

We next examine whether the effects of GBPs on gun crime differ by age, gender, or race of the offender. The findings in Table 8 provide no support for the hypothesis that GBPs reduced gun crime for any demographic group. Instead, we find short-run increases in gun crime for those ages 18 to 23 (column 3), individuals over age 35 (column 5), males (column 6), females (column 7), and African Americans (column 9).

The evidence of an increase in crime involving guns is robust. The results are mentioned again in the conclusion of the study:

Moreover, we find some evidence of a small, short-run increase in gun crime in the two months following a GBP. This result is consistent with the notion that GBPs primarily target low-risk firearms that are more likely to deter crime than be used in the commission of a crime (Kuhn et al. 2002) and with the hypothesis that some criminals may be emboldened by their perception that victims will be less likely to defend themselves with deadly physical force (Lott 1998).

These findings are consistent with an earlier large study, published in 2008, which looked at the effects of highly regulated gun shows in California vs. lightly regulated gun shows in Texas. That study found murder rates decreased in the areas of Texas following lightly regulated gun shows. Direct link to the 2008 paper. The two findings are complementary.

Fewer guns (“buybacks”) = more crime with guns, including homicide and kidnapping.

More guns (lightly regulated gun shows) = fewer homicides.

Other than the terminology of “buybacks”, there were a couple of errors which this correspondent discussed with D. Mark Anderson. Dr. Anderson wrote he and his colleagues will be considering ways to fix the two errata. The mistakes were these:

First, a misinterpretation of the term “registered guns” in Indiana cities on page 19. The vast majority of guns in Indiana and America are unregistered and untraceable. The number of guns in Indiana is erroneously implied to be about 17 per 1,000 people. A reasonable number would be 1,200 per 1,000 people.

Second, on page 49, in Table 7, the authors include kidnapping/abduction with the “non-violent” gun crimes.  Kidnapping is not a non-violent crime.  Moving kidnapping to the violent crime section will not change the overall statistics in the table.

The study is large and ambitious. It reinforces the current findings that more or fewer guns have little effect on crime or suicides generally.  It is consistent with the research of Dr. John Lott, which associates less restrictive gun laws with a small reduction of violent crime.

It finds what economists have previously predicted. Promoting the turning in of guns to the police (“buybacks”) by paying for them has no positive effect on reducing suicide or homicide.  Instead, police and other public resources are wasted without positive effect.

In this correspondent’s opinion, one reason promoting gun turn in events might increase crime is by reducing the sense of self, rational decisions, and personal agency. The theory of “buybacks” is access to objects is what determine crime events, not personal decisions. The theory undermines the concept of personal responsibility.

If authority figures repeatedly tell you having a gun makes you commit crimes, you have a ready-made excuse to do so.

About Dean Weingarten:

Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973. He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of Constitutional Carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

Dean Weingarten

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