Reducing the Stock of Unwanted Guns—Insurance, Buyback and Amnesty

In a new article “Living on the Edge (of Austrailian Cities: Is Gun Amnesty Effective?” by Isabella Kwai, Adam Baidawi and Tacey Rychter, the New York Times questioned the usefulness of a new three month program to recover illegal guns in that country.

A 2002 buyback program in Australia is widely acknowledged to have removed most of the semi-automatic guns from private stocks, officially counting 659,940 newly prohibited weapons.  The Times article recognizes this program, pointing out that “the current rate of homicides involving guns in the United States is 23 times higher than it is in Australia” and that “Australia has not had a mass shooting since Port Arthur.”  Port Arthur was a very serious mass shooting that initiated the movement to adopt Australia prohibitions and the buyback program.  The buyback was a large program for a country of Australia’s size; and this amnesty will, no doubt, yield a much smaller reduction in the stock of illegal firearms.  But amnesty and other uncompensated programs are inexpensive and can be repeated over time.  The article linked above counts 219,721 additional firearms in uncompensated programs since the buyback.  This is a substantial reduction.

The Times also suggests that this kind of program will only remove the least dangerous weapons from circulation; and it does seem unlikely that current professional criminals will be turning in tools of their illegal trade. The bulk of the stock of illegal unredeemed weapons in Australia, estimated at about one third of the total at the time, seems to have gone far underground to account for the low gun homicide and mass killing rate.  But guns have a very long life when unwanted and stored away, they can emerge over time as become sources of deaths and injuries.  They are available for two of the most important ways that firearms became dangerous—as a means for suicide and by being stolen and entering the hands of serious criminals.  Therefore, the view that this channel of removal is unimportant is a short term approach to the problem of gun related injury.

An insurance requirement would have a similar effect for legal guns. To remain legal the gunowner would have to maintain insurance.  Even though as calculated by this blog elsewhere, the cost would be very reasonable for most unwanted guns in the United States, the reminders from insurers to properly safeguard firearms and to make payments, would constitute an incentive to remove unwanted guns.  If the guns are sold to persons, who want them and who are willing to maintain the insurance, they would be better secured because the new owners would value them, and the number of persons contemplating suicide and having immediate access to this means would be reduced.  This would be equivalent to a continuous buyback program.

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