Why Santa Ana's Gun Buyback Won't Do Much

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With the Ali Syed freeway shooting spree that ended with four dead this week and the Christopher Dorner nightmare that left five deceased (note I'm counting the gunmen in each), it's not difficult to see why Santa Ana has announced the city's first gun buyback program, which is Saturday near Santa Ana Stadium. Coupled with the Newtown, Conn., massacre and other recent mass shootings, you can appreciated officials wanting to do something. It's just too bad gun buybacks do little to help stem such tragedies.


In the current Freakonomics podcast "How to Think About Guns," University of Chicago economist Steve Levitt points his co-host Stephen Dubner to data that shows buybacks have generally become a way for people to cash in on disposing weapons that are broken or no longer wanted, and that these donors still hold onto working or wanted firearms. In other works, cities are buying back junk, for the most part, so the programs do little to reduce shootings by operable weapons.

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Steve Levitt
Levitt also maintains the data show there is no correlation between targeting particular guns and ammunition--such as assault rifles and high-capacity clips--with reducing mass shootings in particular or gun violence in general. Keep in mind this is an academic respected for his independence. In the Freakonomics documentary he famously claimed abortion is the No. 1 cause for historically low crime rates in America; there is a whole generation of criminals who were never born, he suggests.

When dealing with mass shootings, though horrific and (thus?) highly publicized, they are but a blip on the crime screen. Levitt points not to the NRA's American Rifleman magazine but that lefty toilet companion Mother Jones, which built a database on mass shootings (ones where there were at least four victims) and discovered that since 1982, there have been 62 mass shootings with 513 fatalities, or an average of 2 mass shootings and 16.5 fatalities a year. Over just the past 10 years, it's slightly higher at about 3 shootings a year with 26 fatalities, and 2012 was an admittedly bad year with 7 shootings and 72 fatalities, more than 4 times the yearly average.

However, there are about 11,000 gun homicides and 20,000 gun suicides a year in the U.S. And when it comes to reducing those numbers, Levitt concludes that it is not buybacks or weapon bans that will drive down those numbers but, based on studies, sentencing enhancements that add more prison time for gun use.

If a criminal knew that just for using a gun he or she'd get an additional five or 10 years in prison added to current sentencing mandates, that would deter gun use, goes the argument. Penalties that would escalate prison time further for firing a gun, injuring someone, murder, etc., would also deter those scenarios, offers Levitt, who realizes no one is exploring such a strategy.

"I would just say that anyone with any sense looks at the current political climate, thinks about the kinds of proposals that are being made and accepts the fact that none of these proposals are going to have any real impact at all," he says pessimistically.

With gift cards of $100-$200 being dangled in front of Santa Ana rifle and handgun owners and $300 for assault weapon holders, it's no wonder logic like that falls on deaf ears (at least between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday near Eddie West Field). If you'd like to open your ears to that Freakonomics podcast, press play below:



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