N.D. gun buyback bill criticized by gun-control advocates as 'dumbest piece of legislation'

FARGO — A bill to ban gun buyback programs funded by tax dollars cruised through the North Dakota House but has drawn flak from national gun-control advocates.

House Bill 1381, which passed the House 66-26 Feb. 19 and now is being considered by the Senate, would ban gun buyback programs conducted by state agencies or local governments as well as buybacks funded by taxpayer dollars.

The penalty for violating a prohibited buyback: a misdemeanor punishable by up to 360 days in jail and a fine of up to $3,000.

Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, is the bill’s prime sponsor. A rancher and former reserve deputy sheriff, Simons said he is unaware of any gun buyback programs in North Dakota, but sees them elsewhere in the country.

“I see what’s happening nationwide,” he said, adding that he wants to send a message that the programs are not welcome in North Dakota.

“First of all, we know the program just doesn’t work,” Simons said. He cites a study in Buffalo, N.Y., where buyback programs got 3,000 guns off the street over a five-year period but did not reduce rates of gun homicides, gun assaults or gun robberies.

“It just doesn’t work,” Simons said.

An advocate of gun buyback programs, Mike Weisser, the author of “Mike The Gun Guy,” which describes itself as a magazine with news and notes from both sides about guns, called the bill “the single dumbest piece of legislation enacted anywhere in the United States.”

The study is flawed, Weisser argued in a Feb. 21 blog post, because the success of gun buyback programs should be measured by the number of guns they take off the street. He touts a gun buyback program that started in Worcester, Mass., and has spread to five states that he credits with taking many guns off the street over the past 18 years.

Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for The New York Times, also criticized the proposed North Dakota ban of state and local government-sponsored gun buybacks, which he called possibly the “dumbest bit of legislation so far this year.”

Kristof acknowledged that the effectiveness of gun buyback programs is controversial. “In fact,” he wrote, “we don’t really know whether gun buybacks are a cost-effective way to reduce gun crimes, but there is some logic to the idea that if fewer unwanted guns are lying around, there will be fewer murders, accidents and suicides.”

Gun buyback programs exceed government’s proper role, Simons said. They are a deliberate attempt to make gun possession seem sinister by having the government involved in confiscating guns, he said.

“If a private organization wants to do that, they are free to do that,” he said of privately sponsored gun buybacks. “They have every right to do that.”

Efforts to reach a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, which Simons said supports the bill, were unsuccessful on Monday, Feb. 25.