Dems want to ‘buy back’ Americans’ guns? What would that cost, and who would pay for it?

Dems want to ‘buy back’ Americans’ guns? What would that cost, and who would pay for it?
Guns seized on Texas ranch. CBP photo

You can’t buy “back” something you never owned. That’s part of the problem with the Democrats’ plan, now endorsed by yet another candidate for the party’s nomination for president, to “buy back” Americans’ guns.

Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her support for this radical plan Monday during an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Fox News sets the stage:

Towards the end of her interview, she took questions from the audience, made up of mostly college students. One of them had pressed Harris about her stance on guns.

“Do you believe in the mandatory buyback of quote-unquote assault weapons and whether or not you do, how does that idea not go against fundamentally the Second Amendment?” Andrew from Fordham University asked.

Andrew was correct in placing air quotes around the phrase assault weapons, which is a term invented by the Democrats to scare their base (yes, Harris attempts a definition, claiming they are “weapons of war” that are “designed to kill a lot of human beings quickly,” but once again that is so much meaningless rhetoric since any firearm could be so designated). But the young man erred in his reference to a “mandatory buyback.” What would be mandatory, if the Democrats could ever pass such a law, would be compliance by gun owners.

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My main focus here in any case is on the second part of Harris’s answer, which explains how a weapons buyback program isn’t confiscation or out-and-out theft:

A buyback program is a good idea. Now we need to do it the right way. And part of that has to be, you know, buy back and give people their value, the financial value of what they have and not just take things from people that have value without compensating them. We need to do it the right way.

Harris is right to set herself apart from loose-cannon candidate Beto O’Rourke, who effectively ended his candidacy by promising at the last Democratic debate “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.” But she still leaves many questions about her proposal unanswered. Among these are how she would go about setting a price for each particular firearm, how much would the overall initiative cost, and who would pay for it?

The last question is easy to answer. It’s taxpayers, which means that law-abiding gun owners who are law-abiding taxpayers would be forced to relinquish part of their government settlement, which seems grossly unfair.

The first two questions are more daunting. A number of commentators have essayed answers. Writing at the Q&A site Quora, Dave Sparazynski, whose credentials include “probably fired around a half-million rounds over 30 years,” hazards a guess at the number of firearms in the U.S. and the cost of purchasing all of them:

Assuming your question means all guns, that is speculated at or around 300 million firearms. Every thing from a single-shot shotgun to Barrett .50 cal long distance rifles. Assuming the average value of every firearm was $500 that total would be roughly $150 billion, but that doesn’t account for accessories like scopes, holsters, etc. I believe Australia also bought accessories back at an arbitrary value, I know England did so when they bought handguns back from lawful citizens. Let’s add $100 average value for accessories, which would be $30 billion. So it could around $180 billion dollars.

Perhaps this on the low side, if their were say 350 million firearms with an average value of $1000 including accessories. Now that number goes up to $350 billion.

A National Firearms Survey conducted in 2015 places the total American gun stock at 265 million weapons, the same general ballparks as Dave Sparazynski’s conjecture. But whatever the actual exact number might be — and note that none of the estimates available account for homemade “ghost guns,” many of which would also become illegal under an assault weapons ban — the cost of a buyback program would be in the hundreds of billions.

That’s a lot of money, even by today’s standards. Recall how reluctant the Democratic-controlled House was just a few months ago to pass a $4.5 billion migrant aid bill despite the party’s non-stop protestations over the Trump administration’s treatment of migrants. Where is a government that can’t scrape together $4.5 billion for a program it supports going to come up with 70 times that amount?

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles

Ben Bowles is a freelance writer and regular contributor to "Liberty Unyielding."