Crowdfunding is a popular way these days to, for instance, make your new album, launch a new tech product or develop a hoodie that lasts for 10 years. Now, one new group is using it to finance something else entirely –- gun buybacks.
Gun by Gun launched its first crowdfunding campaign in July and held its first gun buyback in San Francisco in August. At that time, it bought 86 guns. In December, it will buy another 100 plus guns with the remaining money from its first crowdfunding campaign. (The amount paid for a gun in a gun buyback varies from city to city, but in San Francisco it was $100; in New York City it is commonly $200.) Gun by Gun is also planning to launch crowdfunding campaigns for buybacks in San Jose and Oakland in November, with the buybacks themselves to happen in December.
“The reason I chose this model is that it is so hard to gain traction on the issue nationally,” says Gun by Gun cofounder Ian Johnstone. “I’ve been around the issue since the early ’90s, and the last major piece of legislation passed in 1995. There are more laws coming off the books related to gun violence than being put on the books. Through crowdfunding gun buybacks, we can start addressing the guns out there. It’s a way of creating an opportunity so individuals can do something about the issue without waiting for Congress to act.”
But with about 300 million guns in circulation now and 87 gun deaths a day, can buybacks truly be an effective gun-control technique?
While Gun by Gun recognizes it is not a replacement for gun legislation, Johnstone says it is an important complement, since any legislative changes would only address future gun sales. Additionally, current buybacks are held on an ad hoc basis, with no single source of funding. In fact, he says most gun buybacks run out of money to buy all the guns offered.
Johnstone, who lost his father to gun violence in the early 1990s, says buybacks are an effective way of reducing rates of homicides, suicides and accidental gun deaths.
For instance, one study found that for every one percent increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increases 0.9 percent. Low-end estimates assert that 230,000 guns stolen from homes each year enter the pool of guns used by criminals. In fact, Johnstone’s father was killed by a gun stolen two weeks before his death. Johnstone also says statistics show a correlation between suicide rates and gun ownership; public health professionals cite gun ownership as an official suicide risk factor. And a recent New York Times investigation revealed that accidental gun deaths, especially of children, are grossly underreported, occurring about twice as often as official records show.
Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, says, “Gun buybacks are important and have a role, but it’s a somewhat of a limited role in trying to address gun violence. But gun buybacks themselves can mobilize the community, and I think that’s one of the best things you can get from this.” Having held three successful gun buybacks herself that involved anonymous and corporate donors (they gave out gift cards to groceries and Best Buy instead of cash) and took in double the number of guns she had hoped for, she says that buybacks motivate people to not only do something about the issue but also invest in it.
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