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Sanchez's gun buyback bill a misfire

February 22, 2013|By Dan Turner
  • Numerous guns were collected in December in L.A.'s gun buyback program.
Numerous guns were collected in December in L.A.'s gun buyback program. (Los Angeles Times )

"You'll get my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hand," reads the National Rifle Assn. bumper sticker. Or you could just give me a coupon good at Ralphs.

Groceries-for-guns buyback programs have become popular in recent years in Los Angeles, which may be why we're confronted with the embarrassing spectacle of one of our local congresswomen, Rep. Linda Sanchez, proposing what may be the silliest gun-control legislation to date in response to the deadly December school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Sanchez, along with a group of allied congressional Democrats, is promoting a bill that would impose a 10% nationwide tax on handguns and use the proceeds to pay for gun buybacks, along with firearms safety campaigns and anti-violence programs.

Gun buyback programs make great material for TV news shows -- all those hundreds of guns piled up on a table is irresistible fodder for the cameras, and that makes them a favorite ploy for politicians and police chiefs out to look like they're actively fighting to take deadly weapons off the streets. Politicians really hit the jackpot when somebody shows up with some deadly old Army surplus like the two rocket launchers collected in L.A.'s annual buyback in December (normally held on Mother's Day, the citywide event was moved up several months in response to Newtown). But it's all just a dog-and-pony show with shooting irons.

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The reality is that gun buyback programs have never been followed by a documented reduction in gun crime. They do nothing to get guns out of the hands of criminals, being mainly patronized instead by down-at-the-heel elderly people who regret having ever acquired a gun and value it as worth less than a $100 Ralphs gift certificate; frequently the firearms turned in to police are old, broken down or don't work. And while the numbers can sound impressive -- December's L.A. buyback netted 2,037 weapons -- they are meaningless against the overall scope of local gun ownership. There are probably several million guns within just the city of Los Angeles, not to mention the millions more firearms in the 10-million-strong megalopolis that is L.A. County.

Sanchez's bill to tax guns and spend the proceeds on gun buybacks would provide a fine secondary market of last resort for owners of broken-down firearms nationwide, but it would do nothing to prevent another Newtown. Moreover, it's unfair to force law-abiding gun buyers to subsidize this unnecessary market; Sanchez's bill treats people who want to buy a gun to defend their homes the same way it does criminals, slapping them with the same punitive tax. There are much better, smarter ways to reduce gun violence.

So far, there reportedly haven't been any Republicans lending their support to this bill; Democrats should avoid it too. The Newtown disaster is prompting a badly needed national conversation about gun control and has spawned some worthwhile legislation, but it has put congressional publicity-seekers into overdrive to promote their own solutions, some of which would solve nothing. Sanchez's bill, introduced Thursday in Monterey Park, is a good example of the latter.

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