Lawmakers in two states have introduced legislation that places restrictions on firearm buybacks by state and local governments, prohibiting such programs in some instances and requiring that guns be sold rather than destroyed.
The measures’ advocates say local and state governments have wasted or foregone significant revenue by destroying firearms obtained through buyback programs, which compensate gun owners who give up their guns.
Legislation under consideration in Indiana and Mississippi would require guns obtained through a buyback program to be sold to federal firearms dealers or auctioned instead of destroyed.
Indiana State Sen. Jim Tomes (R), who introduced the measure in his state, said guns would still be taken off the streets if his bill became law, but would generate additional revenue for the state.
"I don't see why anyone would object to this because it benefits everyone involved," Tomes said of the legislation.
The bill would prohibit the destruction of guns with intact serial numbers, and require that all guns obtained through a buyback be sold at auction or to federal firearms dealers, with proceeds in some instances being returned to the guns’ original owners.
"That practice doesn’t make sense," Tomes said of the routine practice of destroying guns bought back by local governments.
Governments that do so are foregoing revenue that could be used to fund critical public services. His bill would use revenues from the sale of bought-back guns to purchase additional training and supplies for law enforcement.
"To have people bring in firearms and spend money for them to grind them up doesn’t make sense," Tomes said. "It goes back to my point that this is a much better business practice."
The Indiana Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the legislation by a 6-2 vote last week. It attracted support from one committee Democrat, State Sen. Lonnie Randolph, who also signed on as a cosponsor.
If passed, the legislation would block gun buyback programs such as the one recently conducted by the city of Gary, Ind., which destroyed the firearms it received in exchange for gift cards to local stores.
Gary’s police chief hailed that effort as a success, but other gun buybacks in the state have been met with more criticism.
"People were working the system," New Albany, Ind. gun store owner Kenny Allen said of a buyback in that town.
Unlike the Gary buyback, New Albany’s gave people cash to turn in their firearms. Many of them reportedly turned around and spent that cash on new guns.
"It gave people money and the opportunity to go buy a better gun," Allen said. "That's exactly what happened."
A Louisville, Ky., recycling center destroyed all the firearms, but a New Albany Police Department spokesman said the town "did not find any guns that were stolen or wanted by law enforcement."
Studies on gun buyback programs have found that they are not particularly effective in combatting gun violence, for reasons that align with New Albany’s experience.
"The guns typically surrendered in gun buy-backs are those that are least likely to be used in criminal activities," according to a 2004 report by the National Academies of Sciences.
"Old, malfunctioning guns whose resale value is less than the reward offered in buy-back programs or guns owned by individuals who derive little value from the possession of guns (e.g. those who have inherited guns)," the report found.
Because people who turn in guns very often replace them immediately, the report noted, "the actual decline in the number of guns on the street may be smaller than the number of guns that are turned in."
Some advocates of the efforts admit that its practical effects are minimal. However, Jon Vernick, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, says such programs have psychological value and boost the spirits of gun control supporters.
"Communities can mobilize around this problem and gun buybacks give them a visible thing to do about it," Vernick told the Daily Beast. "Conducting buybacks is much easier than fighting the political battle" for more impactful gun control regulations.
Tomes and other buyback opponents don’t see that as a compelling reason to destroy so much property, foregoing potential revenue streams for the state in the process.
Legislation proposed in Mississippi would impose similar restrictions to Tomes’ bill in an effort to address the issue. It would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used to finance buybacks, and force authorities to at least offer confiscated guns to federally licensed firearms dealers before destroying them.
All proceeds from the sales would go towards the general operating funds of the municipalities or other government bodies conducting the buybacks.
"There could be some rare guns that could be sold to collectors or dealers," State Rep. Gary Chism (R) told the Columbus Dispatch. "The cities could also use the money collected from selling the guns to collectors to fund the program."
Other states have adopted measures that prohibit the destruction of firearms obtained through gun buybacks.
"If you have something of value, why not recycle it?" suggested North Carolina State Sen. Andrew Brock (R) of his legislation on that front. The law took effect in September.
"The way we’re looking at it, we can sell the guns now and use the money to buy equipment and office supplies," said Wake County sheriff Donnie Harrison of the new law.