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Buybacks: Guns Come from Closets, Not Streets

Buybacks: Guns Come from Closets, Not Streets

(Photo by Joshua Trujillo/The Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

We all hate gun "buybacks." Part of that is the name, which implies that guns are being bought "back" from their owners, as if they really belonged all along to the state. Another irritant is the lingering fear that a Krieghoff Luger is going to wind up in a smelter somewhere (as if it wouldn't wind up in some sharp-eyed cop's gun safe). And finally, there's the fact that criminals have a handy place to dispose of guns that might well have been used to murder someone. No questions asked.

The New Jersey General Assembly has passed a bill expanding state-sponsored buybacks; there now will be nine a year. The Attorney General's office reports more than 16,000 guns were brought in since the beginning of 2013.

Hidden in that report is the really important fact. Less than one-eighth, or fewer than 2,000 guns, were possessed illegally. And given New Jersey's onerous gun laws, my guess is the majority of those probably had simply never been registered. So some fraction of one-eighth of the guns handed in were possibly crime guns.

Buybacks have a purpose, but it's not getting guns out of the hands of criminals. It's getting them out of the closets of widows. The vast majority of the guns offered up for buybacks are no great loss to the gun community: they are beat-up old 16-gauge shotguns or top-break revolvers. But if a buyback can turn a citizen from a gun owner to someone who's no longer a gun owner, a political goal has been achieved. That's why we have to oppose them.

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