On Saturday, four cities in California are doing gun buybacks — a voluntary exchange where people sell guns for cash and the guns are then destroyed.
City leaders are working with a private crowdfunding platform to get regular people to donate small amounts online. The website GunByGun.org has pulled in over $36,000 so far.
Outreach in Oakland
So far this year, Oakland has had 84 homicides.
Sikander Iqbal is an organizer with Youth UpRising, a community-service agency that supports young people. Youth UpRising is sponsoring Oakland’s gun buyback this Saturday, along with GunByGun. Iqbal walks past a schoolyard in East Oakland, handing out flyers publicizing the event to people waiting for the bus.
He lists the going prices: “We’re doing up to a $100 for handguns, rifles and shotguns and up to $200 for assault weapons.”
Malana Weens, 24, poses a frequently asked question: “Do they make you give your information and all that stuff?”
Iqbal explains police do not know people’s names. Civilian volunteers check. “When you pull up, I’ll be at the front,” he says. “I’ll check your ID just to make sure you’re from Oakland.”
He recalls two years ago they didn’t do resident checks and “hella people came from like Tahoe. And they brought hella guns and took all the money.”
On this block, he’s only asking people to bring in guns.
But in Oakland’s downtown, near businesses and shoppers, Youth UpRising put up billboards to ask people to donate money online. Iqbal says the crowdfunding campaign lets different parts of the community work together, even when they don’t talk to each other.
“If you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t have that much gun violence, “he says, “we would like you to contribute by putting up money to help fund getting guns off the street.”
Crowdfunding: a New Political Tactic
Ian Johnstone is the founder of GunByGun.org, the crowdfunding platform behind the buybacks.
“It’s really just a market-based system,” he says. “There’s demand to have fewer guns in a city. And on the other side there’s a lot of guns people are ready to part with.”
Johnstone is an entrepreneur in San Francisco who’s seen his peers use crowdfunding to raise millions of dollars for things like underwater robots and smartwatches.
He felt frustrated that even after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn., last December, lawmakers failed to pass comprehensive background check laws. He decided to put crowdfunding technology to work for a cause that’s personal to him.
When Johnstone was 10, his father was shot and killed in an attempted robbery in San Francisco. “The 16-year-old kid just fired one shot into his back,” he says. “And the gun, we later found out, had been stolen from a home in Marin two weeks before the shooting had happened.”
Johnstone is working on buybacks in cities around the country. He says giving money is a hard indicator of commitment in the online and offline worlds. It also lets people feel like they’re doing something about an intractable problem. “We’re giving them this immediate, tangible outlet right away,” he says, “without waiting for changes in legislation.”
Playing on Emotions
Chuck Michel is the lawyer for the National Rifle Association in California. He says the crowdfunding campaign is playing with people’s emotions: “What they’re selling is a promise that there’ll be some sort of a difference made, and that’s a false promise.”
Research from the Department of Justice indicates that buybacks alone are not an effective way to reduce gun violence. They need to happen on a large scale, and be reinforced by legislation.
“[Buybacks] ignore the substitution effect,” Michel says. “There are plenty of other guns out there that can be stolen or bought on the black market.”
The city of Oakland has limited funds. It is putting its tax dollars into trauma counseling and nonviolent conflict resolution — proven strategies in violence reduction. The city has typically offered buybacks when a big check lands in its lap.
Michel says city leaders don’t mind crowdfunding for this gun buyback because it’s free money. But, he says, the amount raised does not show big political support for strict gun control. “The NRA has 5 million people sending in $35 a year, so it goes far beyond any commitment from a crowdfunding effort.”
East Oakland residents aren’t sold on buybacks alone.
Youth UpRising volunteer Kevin Munson walks the streets promoting the Saturday event. He notices some people don’t want to give up their guns. “People out here feel like they need them. They say, ‘I’m keeping my gun, I’m keeping my gun.’ OK and I understand that. Some people just not with it.”
But Munson says the violence is so bad, he’s got to try something.