New Orleans gun buyback line

New Orleans gun buyback line (City of New Orleans)

American economist and social theorist Thomas Sowell once wrote, “What do automobiles, guns and home-schooling all have in common that makes the liberals hate them? All these things reduce individual dependence on the government and the grandiose schemes for other people’s lives created by liberals and imposed by government.”   

This may very well have been the rationale behind New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell’s gun buyback day this past weekend. Cantrell posted on her Facebook page last week that the City of New Orleans would host a gun buyback event from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at New Hope Baptist Church on Saturday. You'd get $500 for your gun — no questions asked and no ID required. The guns were required to be in working condition. Cantrell’s director of communications, Beau Tidwell, told me someone would be on hand to determine if the guns were in working order.

Lines snaked around the block at the New Hope Baptist Church in Central City as the rain poured down Saturday, a queue full of gun owners trying to get their $500. But quickly after the event began, the money was gone, with only 200 people getting their cash. Hundreds more were turned away, gun in hand, and with no cash. The Cantrell administration acknowledged the buyback day quickly “hit capacity.”

And why wouldn’t it? Used guns at pawn shops or online stores sell for as little as $200. And it’s not uncommon for some to own an old rusty gun they haven’t used in years. With Cantrell promising $500 per weapon, no ID required, no questions asked, it should not have come as a surprise hundreds would be more than excited to take the mayor up on her generous offer.

“It was a waste of time and it was a PR stunt,” said Algiers resident Cecilia Graham, who left with guns in hand after two hours. “It was totally mismanaged.”

Margaret Tastet, of Lakeview, said she stood in the line for 90 minutes with her husband waiting for a chance to surrender two guns.

The scene reminded her of a Black Friday sale, only less organized, she said. Like some others, Tastet said she and her husband had hoped to use their cash to buy more weapons, and better ones.

“We were actually upgrading and increasing,” Tastet said.

She said her husband told her, "If we get $1,000 back, it’s not going into any other budget.”

The Advocate reported one man turned the gun buyback program into a gun show by offering to purchase collectible antique weapons from those in line.

Costly gun buyback event draws critics who say it was poorly organized, waste of money

Jon Vernick, a professor at the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, said the academic literature is nearly universal that gun buybacks don’t work.

Researchers have found that participants tend to turn in old or inoperative weapons and that they are usually not people at risk of committing violence.

“There is no evidence that they reduce rates of street crime. They cost money that could be better spent elsewhere, and so I do think it’s unfortunate that cities continue to do them,” he said.

The free money for guns did not cost taxpayers anything other than paying for security for the event. The money came from a nonprofit, the Edward Wisner Donation fund.

It’s hard to imagine how anyone would believe the city’s most violent criminals, mainly drug dealers and gang members, would willingly turn in the tools of their trade. That they would hear of gun buyback day, and all of a sudden see the error of their ways and surrender their weapons, the very tools they rely on to ply their craft. It’s no easy thing making a living as a gang member and drug dealer without a weapon.

Maybe Cantrell realized that only law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and held the event anyway, believing people are safer without a weapon in their home. Regardless of the mayor’s motive, her scheme to lower the number of guns in the city was probably well-intentioned, but in all likelihood, did little to make New Orleans safer.

Email Dan Fagan at Twitter: @FaganShow.