Mandatory Gun Buybacks: Pro vs. Con


Kaitlin Lee and Robinson Lee

Gun violence is an issue which Congress and our government have failed to address. While there have been many politicians giving their regards and wishes towards the victims of gun violence, these remarks have been largely empty due to the lack of action by our federal lawmakers. But as the 2020 election year arrives and more Democratic candidates scramble to win the nomination, we see these politicians talking about real change to confront this issue. One of these candidates, Beto O’Rourke, is now campaigning on the promise of implementing a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons. While implementing a mandatory buyback program would be very questionable by the Second Amendment, implementing a mandatory buyback program on a smaller scale will be a major step forward in ensuring tragedies such as 2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting and 2018’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting will never happen again. To uncover how mandatory gun buybacks will benefit our nation, let’s look at the details.

First, let’s face the fact that our current gun legislation is woefully insufficient to protect us from harm. As an example let’s look at assault firearms. Even now, 43 states do not have any additional requirements to purchase and possess an assault weapon. The semantics of owning an assault weapon is very questionable as the main reasons for wanting to own a gun are to hunt and for self-defense, are taken to an extreme when a military-grade weapon is involved. Assault weapons are made specifically to kill other people, and the way they are designed is tailored to pierce flesh and brutalize the opponent. No law-abiding civilian would morally use a weapon of war in sport or even self-defense as a handgun or hunting rifle would satisfy the criteria of sport and protection without the amount of cruelty an assault rifle entails. Implementing a mandatory buyback to protect Americans from such weapons of war is a step that we can take to limit the number of people injured in shootings. Holding a mandatory buyback program in specific categories of firearms is beneficial, especially for dangerous weapons.

The semantics of orchestrating such a program is also sound as well. Many people who are wary and suspicious of the program stipulate that implementing such as program would cause “big brother” to eliminate citizen’s rights to own firearms in one fell swoop. However, the truth is that gun buyback programs, even mandatory ones can be smoothly implemented to help gun owners adjust buy holding the program over a long period of time such as a few years. The best scenario would be where more egregious weapons such as assault weapons would be bought back over a period of a few years then repeated with other dangerous weapons such as semi-automatic guns until the list of guns available is exclusively for self-protection or sport. This is just an example of how a mandatory gun buyback program can help the greater good of protecting our communities by taking steps forward. In Australia between 1996 and 2003, the Australian federal government bought 660,959 firearms in cooperation with revisited gun laws. The potential here for such a positive change cannot be ignored.

Implementing a form of a mandatory buyback system is only one step that our federal government needs to take to protect us from gun violence. We need other measures such as universal background checks, lengthened gun license training, and providing safes to store firearms in are ways that we can help solve the problem of gun violence in this nation. If we don’t act now, then we are letting hundreds of more innocent Americans die from deaths they didn’t deserve.


In the democratic debates, Presidential Candidate Beto O’Rourke has caused a frenzy over his fervent defense of government gun buybacks, arguing  this will reduce the number of shootings haunting the United States for the last couple of years. Even if O’Rourke’s heart is in the right place, his idea is incredibly, undeniably flawed.

For one, government buybacks do little to reduce crime. Since the ’90s, there have been studies showing buybacks often do not amount to much. Often, “the guns you get back are nonfunctioning, that we’re paying money and we’re not getting real benefits,” stated President Ralph Fascitelli of Washington CeaseFire, a Seattle-based gun safety organization. Additionally, it is near impossible to significantly affect the number of firearms a community has with buybacks, since, on average, they acquire fewer than 1,000 firearms. Furthermore, the people who participate in these buybacks are people who weren’t likely to break the law anyway. Areas where there are high crime and violence rates often don’t hold gun buybacks. Criminals don’t go to gun buybacks. “They don’t get a lot of crime guns off the street,” said criminal justice Professor Matt Makarios. “You’re only going to reduce the likelihood of gun crimes if you reduce the number of guns used in crimes.” Besides, there is one obvious question defenders are avoiding: can’t people just buy firearms again? 

Really, these buybacks are nothing less than publicity stunts. The pile of weapons creates a powerful, but nevertheless meaningless, image. They hold a “feel-good nature” to them and make people believe that they are achieving something great when really, it doesn’t hold any importance in the long run. “They make for good photo images,” said Director Michael Scott of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, based at the University of Wisconsin’s law school. “But gun buyback programs recover such a small percentage of guns that it’s not likely to make much impact.” 

But the most concerning issue of these buybacks is how people can profit off of them. The way that gun buybacks operate is that individuals exchange their firearms for gift cards or even fiscal awards. The “no questions asked” policy that many government gun buybacks have utilized can lead to “gun entrepreneurs” to abuse the system. “Gun entrepreneurs” are individuals who purchase weapons in one state, then cross the border and sell their weapons to buybacks. They can buy cheap weapons and sell them to the government for a profit. “There’s always that balance,” Scott says. “They want the financial incentive to be great enough to attract some people, but not so great that it increases the risk that some people would be inclined to take the money [from surrendering their gun] and use it to buy a better gun.”

Instead of using government buybacks, there are better ways to encourage more gun safety. Experts have found stringent gun laws that limit the sale of certain weapons or require background checks are slightly more effective in reducing violence than gun buybacks. Gun buybacks also take too much funding and time that could be used to invest in programs that have been proven to statistically lower gun violence. 

It is true that, in general, gun buybacks are harmless, and in fact can help raise awareness of gun violence and suicide by firearm. However, these shouldn’t be the only things relied on to cause action nor should they be placed as more important than other methods. “There’s some merit to them,” Capt. Paul Humphries of Cincinnati police said. “But if they’re done with an eye to reducing intentional gun violence, there’s not much evidence they will.”


Photo courtesy of DAVID GRAY