The debate over firearms includes a lot of confusing language and expressions. This is reflective of other forms of confusion in the debate, such as the common—but illogical—notion that reducing the number of firearms would have the effect of reducing their criminal use. Such an effect would not necessarily happen.
For the record, there are currently an estimated 250 to 300 million firearms in the country; nearly one for each of the 310 million people who live in the United States. In 1978, I purchased a firearm, and it was the only firearm I owned for a number of years. I acquired some others, and at some point I probably owned 10 firearms. I committed no crime with one firearm, no crime with 10 firearms, and would not have committed a crime with 100 firearms.
On the other hand, if a violent or unstable individual had even a single firearm, he might likely commit a crime with it. So, the number of firearms privately owned in the United States does not, by itself, have anything to do with whether firearms are used to commit crime. The moral character and psychological health of those who possess them has everything to do with whether they are inclined to commit crime. Any policy designed to prevent evil or deranged people from possessing firearms is a well-intended policy—but any policy whose only effect would be to prevent harmless people from possessing them is unconstitutional, unproductive, and possibly even dangerous (since those individuals could no longer resist criminal acts with them).
I suspect that many people who are confused about increasing or decreasing the number of privately owned firearms are also confused about the language they use. They are probably the same people who talk about getting firearms “off the streets.” While I believe it injures the discussion of public policy to be confusing, I do not object to cooperating in some ways with confused people, and so I would not object to the following proposal, as a concession to those who believe reducing the number of privately owned firearms would make us safer:
I would not object to a government-run, but privately funded, firearms buy-back program. If Mayor Bloomberg, Mrs. Brady, and others of their persuasion would sleep better at night if we reduced the total number of privately owned firearms in our nation, I would not object at all if they funded a government-run buy-back program. If all the money they currently spend lobbying Congress were instead spent on a buy-back program, the number of privately owned weapons would be reduced, perhaps somewhat substantially. (Mayor Bloomberg could probably contribute $20-$30 million dollars to the project himself.)
As a taxpayer, I would not want a nickel of public monies to be expended on such a project, because I do not believe the number of privately owned weapons has anything at all to do with crime rates; but I would not object to other citizens, of their own volition, contributing voluntarily to such a program, nor would I object to the program enjoying the same tax advantages as charitable organizations enjoy. If Mayor Bloomberg donated $20 million dollars to such a program, he should get the same tax deduction as he would if he gave the same amount to a church or to a synagogue.
Indeed, I am somewhat surprised that this proposal is not commonly discussed. On an issue where there appears to be little common ground, I believe substantial common ground could be found here. I doubt even the NRA would find the proposal objectionable; and I see no reason why Mayor Bloomberg (et al.) would object to such a project. Wouldn’t those who say they believe that reducing the number of firearms would make us safer approve a program that would reduce the number? Indeed, wouldn’t such individuals prove the sincerity of their belief by contributing to it? The only conceivable objection I could see to the proposal is that some people ordinarily prefer to achieve their ends with someone else’s money, but if the program were voluntary, I do not understand how or why they would object to it.
A voluntary, privately operated buy-back program is, it seems to me, a perfectly acceptable form of reducing the number of firearms.
Editor’s note: This is Part II in a five-part series on the topic of firearms. See Parts I, III, IV, and V here:
Firearms Discussion (Part I):
“Getting Firearms ‘Off the Streets’”
Firearms Discussion (Part III):
“We Will Preserve Your Second Amendment Right to Hunt?”
Firearms Discussion (Part IV):
“Reason or Emotion, Mr. President?”
Firearms Discussion (Part V):
“’Reasonable’ or ‘Sensible’ Firearms Policies?