Small Wars Journal

Guns and Money: A Microeconomic Perspective on Weapons Buy-Back Programs

Mon, 08/15/2011 - 8:23am

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Often cited benefits of weapons buy-back programs include getting “guns off the street.” A Special Operations Team Leader stated that such a June 2011 program in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province would “help improve security, stability and development by getting these weapons out of insurgents’ hands.”  The following analysis investigates this claim and evaluates the ability of weapons buy-back programs to remove weapons in an area by using microeconomic theory. Further, it suggests that, unless accompanied with security measures that prevent the free movement of weapons into the targeted area, weapons buy-back initiatives will likely be ineffective.

Editor’s Note.  See also Chad Machiela’s Gun Control in Counterinsurgency for a game theory perspective on guns and money in counterinsurgency.

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About the Author(s)

Jed Medlin holds a B.S. in Political Science from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a M.A. in Management & Leadership from Webster University, and both a Master of International Studies and a Graduate Certificate in Public Policy from North Carolina State University. His research interests include Democratization and Consolidation, Development, and Political Economy.


Great article, well thought. However, it does not account for a possible scenario where the buyback unit, through a cutout, is able to purchase the best and largest quantities of available weapons.

Unless I'm reading it incorrectly, your model appears to have an unlimited quantity of available product on the part of the supplier, which is not likely given the logistical challenges of providing both the quantity and quality of weapons requested.

So supplier A, due to his own rational self-interest, will continue sell to customer B in the quantities requested, which dramatically reduces the product available to customer C.

If these programs are implemented and funded adequately to achieve that scenario, then the resulting security underpinnings, while still necessary, will not be crucial to success.