Gustavson Column: Exploring a gun buyback program

02/02/2013 2:00 PM |
A Bushmaster M-4 semi-automatic, similar to the one allegedly used in the Newtown school shootings last week.

A Bushmaster M-4 semi-automatic, similar to the one allegedly used in the Newtown school shootings.

So I have this old, rusty, single-shot, 20-gauge shotgun sitting in the corner of our bedroom, awaiting its fate.

What to do with it? Leave it where it lies, indefinitely? Attempt to melt it down in the burn barrel out back by the garage? (No, that would be against all sorts of laws, including those of nature.) Sell it through this newspaper’s classified ads? (No, can’t do that because the paper no longer accepts such ads, even for “antique” guns.) Or perhaps eBay? (No, “actual firearms” can’t be listed for sale there either.)

What to do with it? Hey, I have an idea: Why not encourage local police departments to implement gun buyback programs similar to those that have been so successful around the nation, particularly in the aftermath of the Newtown school massacre.

This is basically how they work: Police departments set a place and time where and when guns of any sort — from single-shot derringers small enough to fit into the palm of your hand to the sort of multi-round assault rifle used to mow down elementary school children in Connecticut — are turned in voluntarily, with no questions asked. Those turning in the guns are compensated — sometimes with cash, but more often with gift cards that can’t be used to buy another gun — and the unwanted guns are properly disposed of by the cops.

I very much doubt that buyback programs here would generate the quantity of guns produced in big city programs, if only because our populations are so much smaller by comparison. But any gun taken off the street is a gun that won’t figure in an accident or an act of violence, such as the tragic shooting in Flanders this weekend, and that’s a very good thing.

Skeptics routinely disparage them as “feel good” programs that do little to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the criminally insane, but that’s not the only objective. As The Trenton (N.J.) Times editorialized after that city’s recent gun buyback program: “They represent an opportunity to safely dispose of old and malfunctioning firearms that could mean death in the hands of a child. We regulate the disposal of appliances, of paint, of outdated medication lest they spill destructive chemicals. It’s logical to be as conscientious about the clearing away of potentially deadly instruments.”

This week I have surveyed the chiefs of police in Southold, Riverhead and Shelter Island, asking them if they would support such a program in their towns, and I will let readers of this column know their responses as soon as I receive them. The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department used to buy back guns, but that program was discontinued when the grant money dried up, according to the department’s public information office.

And time is wasting, as they say, with recent reports in this newspaper about unprecedented sales of guns and ammunition in the wake of the passage of New York State’s tough new Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act.

Meanwhile, a reader of my December column on gun control has pledged $1,000 to help implement such a program in Southold Town. And depending on the response we receive from the police chiefs, the former Joan Giger Walker and I will pledge another $1,000.

I wonder how many other community members would be willing to make small pledges to get the guns off our streets.

And if you’re wavering on this question, please take to heart these words of ex-New York City policeman Howard Martin of Manorville, as quoted in this newspaper last week: “Behind every tree, every window, every door there is a gun. It is the one thing that keeps America free.”

And bloody.

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