In a series of scenes that could have been written by Michael Bloomberg, The Rookie tries making the case for gun buybacks and gun registration (S1, E11). The officers in this scene tell people that turning in their guns to police during the buyback will make the city safer. A woman is shown bringing in her father’s weapons, one of which is a Claymore mine. Other mines that were in the woman’s car explode while she is in the police station.
The show makes no mention of the fact that guns are used defensively by people to stop crime. Indeed, the same episode later shows a civilian accidentally killing another person with a gun.
The guns that are turned in during these buybacks usually aren’t even functional (see below). Study after study finds that buybacks do not reduce crime rates. A discussion of Australia’s gun buyback is available here.
The show claims that gun registration will also make the city safer, but the reality is that it simply hasn’t helped solve crimes.
In just a minute and a half, the program hits on a number of people’s fears about guns, including the risks of having guns in homes with children. But although about half of American homes having guns, there were 42 children under 10 who died from accidental gunshots and 62 children under age 15. Those are tragic numbers, but still relatively small for a nation of 325 million.
Unstable Claymore mines may make for a dramatic show, but there’s no reason why they would have detonated.
(The Rookie, Season 1, Episode 11, Tuesday, January 22, 2019)
The theory on which gun buy-back programs is based is flawed in three respects. First, the guns that are typically surrendered in gun buy-backs are those that are least likely to be used in criminal activities. Typically, the guns turned in tend to be of two types: (1) old, malfunctioning guns whose resale value is less than the reward offered in buy-back programs or (2) guns owned by individuals who derive little value from the possession of the guns (e.g., those who have inherited guns). The Police Executive Research Forum (1996) found this in their analysis of the differences between weapons handed in and those used in crimes. In contrast, those who are either using guns to carry out crimes or as protection in the course of engaging in other illegal activities, such as drug selling, have actively acquired their guns and are unlikely to want to participate in such programs.
Second, because replacement guns are relatively easily obtained, the actual decline in the number of guns on the street may be smaller than the number of guns that are turned in. Third, the likelihood that any particular gun will be used in a crime in a given year is low. In 1999, approximately 6,500 homicides were committed with handguns. There are approximately 70 million handguns in the United States. Thus, if a different handgun were used in each homicide, the likelihood that a particular handgun would be used to kill an individual in a particular year is 1 in 10,000. The typical gun buy-back program yields less than 1,000 guns. Even ignoring the first two points made above (the guns turned in are unlikely to be used by criminals and may be replaced by purchases of new guns), one would expect a reduction of less than one-tenth of one homicide per year in response to such a gun buy-back program. The program might be cost-effective if those were the correct parameters, but the small scale makes it highly unlikely that its effects would be detected.
In light of the weakness in the theory underlying gun buy-backs, it is not surprising that research evaluations of U.S. efforts have consistently failed to document any link between such programs and reductions in gun violence (Callahan et al., 1994; Police Executive Research Forum, 1996; Rosenfeld, 1996). . . .