The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

April 17, 2006

Gun Buybacks

The city of Boston is considering a new gun buyback program under which it will provide gift certificates to people who turn in guns. Many cities, including Boston, operated such programs in the 1990s, but most let them lapse. The programs took in modest numbers of guns relative to the outstanding stock. Moreover, many guns appeared to be older guns that had not recently been in use, or they were types of guns not commonly employed to commit crime. Plus, some of those who received the cash used it to buy—guess what—new guns.

This time Boston is planning to offer gift certificates rather than cash to discourage purchase of new guns. This will not work. Those receiving the certificates will use them to buy other things and save that cash for purchasing new guns, if that is what they want.

Thus, gun buybacks actually offer criminals a subsidy to upgrade their guns. And, there is no evidence buybacks reduce crime. For example, declines in crime over the past 15 years occurred in virtually all cities, whether or not the city conducted a buyback.

Boston should save its money.


At 6:52 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

"And, there is no evidence buybacks reduce crime. For example, declines in crime over the past 15 years occurred in virtually all cities, whether or not the city conducted a buyback."

And thus Miron proves that because apples are red, we cannot know what color oranges are.

By that same logic, we should have disbanded police forces during that period, because there is no evidence that they are doing anything.

Where do these goofy arguments come from?

At 9:10 AM, Blogger Chris said...


Umm... dude?

It's a program that can be proven to be beneficial or not to the desired outcome. It hasn't yet proven that its benefits outweigh its costs. What is so hard to understand?

You could say the same thing about most any program.

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Miron is comparing two types of cities: those that have buyback programs and those that do not. Reduction in crime occurred in both types of cities. Your example is not comparable because I can not think of a city in the US without a police force. Hence, comparing two types of cities, one with a police force and one without a police force, is not possible within the US. However, I am not totally disagreeing with you about the disbanding of the police force, I'd like to explore some alternatives to the current system.

At 10:52 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Mike, are you comletely dense? How do you jump from empirical evidence that buyback programs dont' accomplish anything to disbanding police?

They aren't even remotely similar.

At 6:11 PM, Blogger James said...

Mike Huben,

Miron's post strikes me as the executive summary version of a fairly standard sort of impact analysis. It's not much different from a medical study questioning the effectiveness of a treatment when the group receiving treatment and the group not receiving the treatment both displayed the same trend in the observed variable.

You have a problem with such methodology? Ok. I have no prejudice against alternative methodologies. How would you test the claim that gun buybacks reduce crime?

At 7:46 PM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

None of you bozos seem to have cottoned on to the idea that the reductions could be quantitatively different, or caused by multiple factors.

Just as an explanatory example, I'll make up some numbers. Say one city had a spontaneous reduction in crime of 25%. Say another city, with a buyback program, had a reduction of 50%.

Both had declines in crime, "whether or not the city conducted a buyback."

Mind, this example doesn't prove the buybacks worked, even if the numbers were real. But the example shows the blatant fallacy which Miron made and that you all overlooked. The greater reduction could have come from the buyback. Miron is wrong to rule it out with his justification.

At 8:59 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Is there currently any empirical evidence suggesting that gun buyback programs are successful?

If there are, please point them out to us. If there are not, then your point is lost. The burden of proof lies with those claiming success (and spending money), not the other way around.

Of course it is an oversimplification. That's why it was three paragraphs and not 15 pages. Reductions in crime rates can be caused by a wide variety of things. Why the blind faith in this program?

At 7:06 AM, Blogger Mike Huben said...

My point is not whether they have an effect: if Miron had questioned that in a competent way, I wouldn't have argued it.

My point is that Miron, typically, uses extremely bad arguments to support his points. And you supporters of his viewpoints just go "yay, team!" without noticing the errors of logic or argument. Really, I've read MUCH better libertarian arguments than his. Try the Chicago school folks.

At 9:51 AM, Blogger Chris said...

Mike, if the argument is poor, it should be quite easy to refute it; something that you have yet to do.

So what is wrong with his argument against guns buyback. He says that most guns are of poor quality. Do you have evidence that he is wrong?

He says that some people use the money from gun buybacks to buy new guns. Do you have contrary evidence?

He says that gift certificates can't resolve this issue. Do you have a theory that shows how this isn't true?

He says that there is no link between buyback programs and reduction in crime. Do you have contrary evidence?

You would be more successful with your arguments if you actually addressed the points instead of attack libertarians as dumb.

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is the bonanza I've been waiting for. Mr. Miron is right. I got a bucket of guns of just the type he is talking about that would normally be worth $25 or $50 easily on the street. Mr. Mayor, save a bundle of those $200 certificates for me. I'll save a bundle on xmas shopping or sell the gift certificates at a discount and be able to upgrade to a nice high capacity Sig or Glock.

At 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At 1:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was watching TV news and saw a local bay area police dept did a buyback today and got 1000 guns and was giving $250 per gun.

As I was watching it I couldn't help thinking if I knew about it I'd be buying guns for $50 and cash in to make $200 profit per gun. Or trade in my gun to get $$ towards a new one. $250,000 went towards this program? It seems there should be some way to determine whether these are doing more good than harm or not if that much money is being spent

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At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Data Room said...

lolz.... amazing, they purchased new ones after selling/giving old ones.. I think this is the silly strategy to reduce crime. The simplest way is to find the people having guns and threatening materials and throw them to jail. This is the only way to reduce crime for long term. There should be no relaxation for rule breakers.
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