“When we saw something like that happen, everyone said, ‘Never again,” New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern told Stephen Colbert last night about the the 2019 massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51.
In the aftermath of the shooting that left 51 people dead and dozens more injured, New Zealand banned semi-automatic weapons. The country also spent $65 million to compensate gun-owners who gave up their rifles. The gun buy-back removed about 60,000 guns from the supply, according to the Times.
US gun buy-back programs are local and sparse. There is virtually no institutional heft behind them (unlike the DEA’s much vaunted drug take-back day). A recent gun buy-back in New York was launched and sponsored by Junior’s, a Brooklyn diner known for its cheesecake, not its responsibility for maintaining public safety. “Being a good restaurant today to me is not enough,” said Junior’s founder Alan Rosen. “If you’re part of a community, which we are, you have an obligation to do something.”
Maybe our elected leaders might also consider “the obligation to do something.” But, of course, Republicans are already grinding down on their psychotic religious devotion to the 2nd amendment and Democrats are speechifying and being ineffectual. There are the standard calls for “common sense” gun control, like more background checks that’ll probably go nowhere and may not even be particularly effective, since many shooters obtain their guns on the black market or from relatives.
But what if—and I know, this is crazy—there were just fewer guns?
The ghoulish NRA is scheduled to hold its annual conference on Friday. Much will be written about how terrible that is, and rightfully so. Under the tutelage of leader Wayne LaPierre, over the past few decades, the organization has strangled reforms and pushed for ever-laxer gun laws, richly rewarding the politicians who deliver. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is scheduled to speak Friday.
Texas is home to some of the most radical gun laws in the nation. As of September 2021, Texans can carry a handgun in a public spaces without a license, and zero training.
But when NRA members say that, no, they are not for the murder of children and as “responsible” gun owners don’t feel like they should be punished for the actions of criminals, that’s not completely off the wall. Or, at least you can see a kind of narcissistic American logic at work: “Why should I sacrifice?”
But look, I’ve been to two of those conferences (as a reporter!). The attendees are old, fat, and rich (yes rich. Gun ownership is coded as a working class thing but it’s quite expensive to buy a million guns and spend three days in a tourist destination). The whole thing is more cosplay than an anime meet: Posters on the wall show steely eyed, sharp jawed soldiers, while the attendees look like they should be napping at a bingo table in Florida. Which is all to say, this is a demographic that’s extremely unlikely to go on shooting sprees. They also wouldn’t need the money offered by a buy-back.
But you know who needs money? Young, isolated males, the demographic that is most likely to kill. Or young men in urban areas. Make it worth their while to give up their guns and then melt down those guns into whatever precious metals. And what would happen to the black market for gun now roiling most major cities, if the government became the biggest customer?
Research on the efficacy of gun buy-backs is mixed, generally showing that they’re most useful when accompanied by violence prevention social programs. But also, previous efforts, almost entirely at the local level, have offered laughably small rewards, like $50 or tickets to a sport’s game. Why would you give something up for less money than what you probably payed for it? Probably its mostly people who want to get rid of a gun anyway, perhaps belonging to a relative. My grandfather, god bless him, slept with a gun under his pillow—an understandable trauma response from his time in a Communist gulag—and when he passed at age 87, the first thing we did was turn in his guns so my grandma wouldn’t accidentally shoot herself opening the wrong drawer.
“But where would we get the money for such a massive government program?”
The defund movement generated such an enormous backlash that we’re not spending more and more and more on police, with, frankly, depressing results. The NYPD, famously with more funding than the army of Ukraine, keeps failing to stop or solve violent crime. Under the watch of former cop Eric Adams, who campaigned on a tough-on-crime platform, virtually every category of violent crime has spiked. In two months, two different shooters terrorized New Yorkers on the subway, managed to slip by officers, and in both cases were basically captured by civilians.
What if we take money from police departments and spend it on a massive, federal, gun buy-back program? These two things aren’t unrelated. The reason officers perceive their jobs as dangerous is because Americans are armed to teeth, in possession of more firepower than most government armies. The reason officers use force, including deadly force, is because of all these guns everywhere.
We’ve previously noted that, last year, Britain had exactly a single fatal police shooting. Well, it’s because most British cops don’t carry guns, and that’s because most British citizens don’t own guns. I feel like, if sold correctly, even GOP ghouls might get behind gun subsidies, in the same way they’re super anti-government spending unless it goes to the large farmers or defense contractors in their own districts.
It seems worth trying, instead of performing “thought-and-prayers” and “thought-and-prayers aren’t enough!” dance, once again.
Amen. A gun buyback would go along way to reducing America's staggering and brutal epidemic of gun violence. But only if it is done correctly, of course.
Wow, this take seems to have zero awareness of the culture in which both our relationship to gun ownership and the epidemic of mass shootings stem from. You cannot compare the US with New Zealand or the UK, we do not have anything near the same culture or conditions and it’s ridiculous to base a solution on what was successful in those places. Our depraved culture of toxic individualism - pathological selfishness, indifference to the suffering of the vulnerable, contempt for empathy and compassion - that id the problem. No one who would shoot up a school is ever going to value money over their guns, few people who have those tendencies would sell their guns. The guns have a great deal of value to them. How can you not recognize that?