Tuesday, January 15, 2013
Interest in gun buyback programs grows following Sandy Hook shooting
Posted: Sunday, January 6, 2013
Hand over a gun, get a gift certificate. No questions asked.
Bristol Township police say that simple formula has taken more than 350 firearms — including 100 semi-automatic weapons — off the streets over the last four months.
The gun buyback program has been so popular that in the first few weeks, on the two days a week that people can turn them in, the line is out the door, said patrolman Anthony DeSilva, who oversees the program. While the rush has slowed since the current buyback program started in August, the Connecticut school shooting was on the minds of some who turned in guns recently, DeSilva added.
Bristol Township is the only Bucks County town that has a gun buyback program, though that could change later this year.
Nationally, participation and interest in gun buyback programs surged following last month’s deadly shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 27 people — 20 schoolchildren, six educators and the gunman’s mother. Following that mass murder, officials in Lansing, Mich., Lawrence, Mass., Los Angeles and Santa Ana, Calif., announced plans to hold — or move up — gun buyback programs.
And the day after the Dec. 14 massacre, Camden County, N.J., had the most successful gun buyback program in state history, collecting more than 1,100 weapons in a cash-for-guns program. That same Saturday in the California cities of Oakland and San Francisco and also in Baltimore, Md., more than 1,000 firearms in total were dropped off at buyback programs.
At the Baltimore dropoff, those who turned in weapons mentioned the events in Connecticut the day before as the reason they wanted to get the unwanted guns out of their houses, according to media reports.
Weeks before the Sandy Hook shooting, Bensalem’s mayor had started discussions about implementing a gun buyback program, said Bensalem Director of Public Safety Fred Harran. There is no timeline yet, but it could happen sometime later this year, Harran said.
The Bucks County Sheriff’s Office has been trying to arrange a gun buyback event for some time now, Chief Deputy Dennis Shook said. The office hopes to hold one in early spring and is looking for additional sponsors. If enough sponsors come forward, an event could be held in the lower and central part of the county, Shook said.
Montgomery County Sheriff Eileen Behr said her office doesn’t have plans for a gun buyback program, but individual police departments have held events. In September, police in Abington, Upper Dublin and Upper Moreland took 92 guns back in exchange for supermarket gift certificates during a one-day buyback event.
Even without the incentive, unwanted firearms can be turned in at any federal, state, county or municipal law enforcement agency for disposal. But Bucks County police departments and the Bucks County sheriff say they haven’t had anyone turn in weapons recently.
Bristol Township’s latest gun buyback was launched in August under a $25,000 casino revenue grant. As of late last month, the town has $1,900 left in the grant, which is used to buy supermarket gift cards to exchange for firearms. Anyone can turn in a firearm for a gift certificate, no questions asked, he added. Guns can be turned in Tuesday and Thursday at the township building.
In its inaugural 2009 gun buyback, Bristol Township collected nearly 300 guns — including 79 semiautomatic weapons. That program also was funded by a $20,000 casino impact grant.
The guns were incinerated. However, a check of serial numbers revealed that one had been stolen and it was returned to its rightful owner.
While some say the programs offer law enforcement another tool to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, others are not convinced buybacks are effective.
“It’s a gesture that makes people feel better,” Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler said.
With counties and towns facing tighter funding constraints, Heckler said he doesn’t believe paying people to turn in guns makes good financial sense.
He cited last month’s record-breaking gun buyback in Camden as an example of what he believes is questionable spending. Most of the firearms that were turned in — for cash payments — appeared to be older hunting rifles — not handguns, which are the firearms most often used in crimes.
“You are buying a lot of old guns for maybe what they’re worth, and the number of those weapons that would be used in a crime is marginal,” Heckler said. “I think you’re burning up a lot of money. If you look at the number of guns out there, I don’t think you’re making much of a dent.”
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia;