Give Us Your Guns, We’ll Give You a Bike

'Weapons for Life' allows citizens in Uruguay to exchange illegal firearms for bicycles and laptops.
Is this the answer to gun control? (Photo: The Image Bank/Getty Images)
Feb 16, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Anyone who turns on the news for all of five minutes is likely to hear another story about gun violence. While the debate between legislation and personal freedom wages on, America’s cities are doing what they can to remove illegal firearms from the streets with “Guns for Cash” initiatives.

Cities like Oakland, San Diego and Chicago have on occasion adopted the program as a way to safely collect illegal firearms, motivating owners to hand them over without fear of prosecution and with the added incentive of money. But far south of our borders, in the country of Uruguay, a new version of the buy-back model was recently launched.

Called Weapons for Life, the program doesn’t involve cash; instead, participants who hand over their illegal firearms have the choice of being gifted with a brand-new bicycle or a new low-end computer.

While cash seems like the most obvious choice of incentive to elicit a public response, Uruguay is interested in providing gifts that can benefit its population on a deeper level.

Bicycles are an obvious means of cutting down on transportation pollution; the EPA estimates that for every one mile pedaled rather than driven, nearly one pound of CO² is saved.

But they also offer a built-in means of promoting health, limiting obesity, and reducing healthcare costs. And those costs can add up. For instance, in the U.S., it’s been estimated that if just one-third of the population cycled for a mile a day, the country could save $17 billion on healthcare costs annually.

And cycling has a known financial benefit; it tends to boost local economies. Portland, OR, is probably the most stunning example; cycling has increased by almost 40 percent over the last six years, bringing $90 million to the city’s economy while providing locals with almost 1,200 jobs.

Even as Uruguay’s poverty levels have decreased significantly in recent years, promoting a sustainable means of transportation can mean even further increases in mobility, and access to food, employment and education. That’s why nonprofits like Bikes Not Bombs provide refurbished bicycles to citizens in countries throughout the South American continent.

And while some may debate the social merits of a laptop computer, foundations like One Laptop Per Child have long recognized the educational and employment advantages of a community that prizes computer literacy and enjoys open access to the Internet.

Weapons for Life is the latest unorthodox move from an adminstration led by Uruguay’s civic-minded president, José Mujica. He’s known for taking radical measures to improve his country’s quality of life; Mujica not only donates about 90 percent of his annual income to build housing for the poor, but has also championed marriage equality, abortion rights and renewable energy sources.

Unlawfully-owned guns in his country, which total about half a million among Uruguay’s three million citizens, are an obvious impediment to the population’s sense of security and well-being. Taking them off the streets in a way that simultaneously promotes health and economic freedom may not (yet) be a proven method of solving this particular problem, but it is certainly an inspiring one.

Do you expect that offering bikes and computers will be incentive enough to get guns off of Uruguays streets? Let us know in the Comments.