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Studies: Gun buybacks don’t work

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Dane County Sheriff candidate Anthony Hamilton slammed Gov. Tony Evers’ political appointee, Sheriff Kalvin Barrett, for his “virtue-signaling” gun buyback program, calling it “woke policing” that will do nothing to stop rising crime.

He’s right. And decades of research back Hamilton up.

Barrett, appointed by Evers in April 2021 to fill out the term of long-time Sheriff Dave Mahoney, hosted the department’s first gun buyback program. The sheriff’s department and local media celebrated the inaugural “Gift Cards for Guns” event last weekend at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center, reporting that 577 firearms were traded in for about $43,000 worth of gas and grocery gift cards.

“We’re very pleased with the results from this effort to interrupt the access to guns in our community,” said Barrett, a Democrat running against Hamilton, a Republican and Dane County detective, in the November election.

But will this gun buyback initiative really “interrupt the access to guns” by violent criminals?

Barrett, who was working as a law enforcement officer at Wisconsin State Fair Park before being tapped for sheriff by Evers’ “diverse, blue ribbon panel” of liberal officials, offers a caveat.

“We can’t measure something that did not happen,” he said. “But by providing this opportunity for people to safely dispose of their unwanted firearms, we can undoubtedly say that these guns will never be used in a crime, a suicide, a domestic violence incident or an accident.”

Maybe. But will the program cut violent crime in Dane County?

Probably not, if history is any guide.

Gun buybacks don’t work, as even CNN reports,“in large part because they don’t result in guns being taken from people who aren’t supposed to have them.”

Early research on gun buybacks, mostly from the 1990s, largely finds these programs ineffective at curbing gun violence, according to the Journalist’s Resource.

A study last year, “Have U.S. Gun Buyback Programs Misfired?”, finds “no evidence that GBPs reduce suicides or homicides where a firearm was involved.”

“These results call into question the efficacy of city gun buyback programs in their current form,” the study, conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, states.

In April, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched a $1 million fundraising campaign to pay for the largest gun buyback program in city history.

“By increasing visibility on our blocks through lights and cameras and getting guns out of the hands of dangerous people, we will empower residents with the necessary tools to build a safer city for us all,” the liberal mayor said of the “bold initiative.”

Chicago has seen plenty of gun buybacks over the years. Despite these initiatives the city recorded more than 800 homicides last year, a rate not seen in a quarter of a century. Homicides were down in July, but law enforcement officials say that has more to do with a “strategic focus on the police beats that account for the majority of the city’s violence.” The city was still on pace to record more than 600 murders this year.

Interestingly, with a population of more than 2.7 million residents — five times the population of Dane County — Chicago took in only 408 guns in a buyback in June.

New Orleans, no stranger to gun buyback initiatives, has the highest per-capita murder rate in the nation.

Hamilton, a 14-year veteran at the Dane County Sheriff’s Department called Barrett’s buyback “political theater.” Hamilton’s press conference this week featured a stolen vehicle and another wrecked car “symbolizing the spike” in stolen vehicles and violent crime in the county. Stolen cars have doubled in Madison since 2017 — from 449 to 837 last year.

According to the sheriff’s department, the Guns for Cards event recorded:

  • 266 cars went through the line
  • 577 total weapons surrendered include:
    • 333 long guns, including rifles, shotguns and 11 assault-style rifles
    • 95 handguns, including revolvers and semi-automatic pistols
    • 93 pellet/BB/paintball guns
    • 1 Cross Bow pistol
    • 55 homemade weapons (3D, Slam guns)
    • And 380 lbs. of misc. ammunition

A Dane County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman declined to release a detailed list of the weapons, including make, model and caliber. She said that information may be available through an open records request.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, a Democrat, said the county has seen too often the devastating consequences of guns ending up in the wrong hands.

“Thanks to the Dane County Sheriff’s Office for coordinating this event and providing an opportunity for those in our community to safely turn in their unwanted firearms,” he said.

But how many of those citizens were felons? People who legally can’t own guns? People who have used guns in the commission of a crime? The don’t ask, don’t tell buyback organizers can’t tell you that.

What Hamilton and the numbers will tell you is that Dane County’s law enforcement roster is woefully understaffed.

He said the money spent on the gun buyback program would have been better used paying a dozen deputies to conduct a Stolen Vehicle Round Up or an Arrest Warrant Round Up of violent offenders.

“I guarantee using that $50,000 to take wanted violent offenders and their guns off of the streets would do more to reduce violent crime in Dane County,” he said.

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