Federal Way gun buyback program stirs debate in its effectiveness

Mar 27, 2023, 4:15 PM

Federal Way gun buyback...

Hundreds of unwanted firearms were turned in last February in Federal Way’s first ever gun buyback. (KIRO 7 News)

(KIRO 7 News)

Federal Way Police collected nearly 200 firearms in its gun buyback program last month — making it the latest city in an ever-growing trend across Washington to reward gun owners with gift cards and cash for depositing unused or unwanted guns.

A third of the guns Federal Way collected were pistols, while rifles and shotguns were the second- and third-most common. A total of $25,000 in gift cards, funded through the police department’s budget, were handed out, according to Mayor Jim Ferrell.

Federal Way police even claimed they ran out of gift cards 30 minutes before the event was supposed to end. Several people still chose to turn in firearms without receiving compensation.

Federal Way’s gun buyback runs out of gift cards early

This trend is reaching national levels, as gun buyback events in Texas and Wisconsin late last year netted approximately 1,350 guns in total.

But while many cities are implementing buybacks to prevent gun violence, research has shown it has led to little reduction in both homicides and suicides in their respective communities.

“It’s a waste of resources if the entities that are sponsoring believe that it’s going to have a positive effect on reducing crime,” said Keith Taylor, an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, for Pew Research. “But if the purpose is to provide a means for individuals to get rid of weapons from their households that they don’t want to have anymore, it absolutely is a good option.”

Toshio FerrazaresJoseph J. Sabia, and D. Mark Anderson published a study with the National Bureau of Economic Research backing Pew Research’s claims that gun buyback programs are ineffective.

“Using data from the National Incident Based Reporting System, we find no evidence that gun buyback programs reduce gun crime,” their research read. “Given our estimated null findings, with 95% confidence, we can rule out decreases in firearm-related crime of greater than 1.1% during the year following a buyback.”

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Part of the debate on its ineffectiveness comes from the voluntary aspect, meaning these buyback programs have been used as a way to spring-clean old junk. A small percentage of turned-in guns are not even operable.

This has led to some Democratic candidates embracing the idea of mandatory gun buybacks, pushing for legislation requiring Americans with high-capacity assault weapons to trade them in. Most recently, former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Senator Corey Booker have all expressed their support for this. All three ran for president under the Democratic ticket in 2020.

Most Republicans and even some Democrats immediately voiced their disapproval of this idea, including Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who told reporters, “I can tell you one thing: Beto O’Rourke’s not taking my guns away from me. You tell Beto that, ok?”

There are no government estimates on what a national gun buyback program might cost, but an analysis from The Trace, a national news outlet covering guns, estimated a mandatory nationwide buyback program would cost at least $1 billion.

The Institute of Labor Economics estimated the cost of a national buyback program for handguns most often used in violent crimes would cost approximately $7.6 billion, with the estimate failing to account for labor costs for law enforcement and other government personnel.

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Federal Way gun buyback program stirs debate in its effectiveness