The United States of America is home to the greatest proliferation of civilian-owned guns of any nation on the planet. At an estimated 393.3 million firearms owned by U.S. residents as of 2018, there are more guns than there are people in our great nation.
So, what’s a subtropical municipality to do with all the citizen-owned guns to get them off the streets? In the City of Miami’s case, the latest answer appears to be: Buy back those guns, lock, stock, and Saturday night special, and ship them to a war zone halfway across the world.
In an unscheduled move during the Miami City Commission meeting on Thursday, Commissioner Ken Russell proposed a resolution to create a buyback program that would have the city purchase guns from residents and send them to Ukraine to assist that nation in combating Russia’s ongoing invasion.
“People have been wanting to know how to help Ukrainians. Now we’ll find people who want to donate their to help the cause in Ukraine,” Russell later elaborated to New Times.
The resolution calls for Miami City Manager Art Noriega to take “any and all action to work with federal authorities” to ship any functional weapons turned in to Ukraine “for use in the conflict against the Russian invasion.”
The commission immediately voted on Russell’s resolution, passing it unanimously along with, among other items, a resolution to ship surplus police safety equipment to Ukraine via the nonprofit Ukrainian Congress Committee of America.
Russell says Miami Police Department Chief Manny Morales spoke with the U.S. State Department to ensure the buyback program is legal, and the city will work with a Florida-based exporting company to send the guns in conjunction with the State Department.
Should it transpire, Miami would appear to be among the first local governments in the U.S. to initiate such a buyback; an internet search turned up only Long Island’s Nassau County in New York, where county executive Bruce Blakeman undertook a similar program in March and has already shipped weapons to Ukraine.
It remains unclear whether Ukrainians will actually be able to make use of whatever firearms Miamians might supply. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has pleaded for heavy artillery such as drones and rocket launchers.
Russell says Miami’s incipient Ukraine assistance effort is more of an incentive to reduce the number of guns in Miami homes.
“This could move a lot of guns off the street — that’s primarily where this comes from,” he says.
A series of mass shootings over the past month — including the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that saw the deaths of 19 children and two teachers — has brought renewed calls for gun law reform and efforts to curb the number of assault-style weapons that proliferate in the U.S.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a sweeping reform package on Wednesday, the “Protect Our Kids Act, which would raise the legal age to buy certain types of rifles to 21 from 18 and create new penalties for gun trafficking and selling high-capacity magazines, among other things. But the package will now go to the U.S. Senate, where it is expected to fail, owing to GOP opposition.
On the local level, municipalities have used gun buyback programs in the past to incentivize residents to turn in their guns by offering money or gift cards and promising to accept the weapons with “no questions asked” — meaning police won’t perform a background check on the person turning in the gun.
Recent research has shown that while gun buyback programs don’t actually drive down violent crime, they are effective when undertaken in conjunction with other gun-reform and gun-education policies. Russell himself called the program “a Band-Aid on a larger wound” of gun violence.
Miami staged a buyback program in 2018 following the mass shooting in which 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but the program is not currently active because it has not been funded. Russell tells New Times he is allotting $10,000 from his own discretionary fund for the buyback program and hopes to secure a donor to supply additional funding.
Russell says the buyback will take place within the next two weeks and will likely occur at Miami City Hall, where residents will be able to drive up with their firearms in the trunk of their vehicle for police to inspect before accepting them. A website, gunsforukraine.com, will be set up within the next few days.