Sixty guns of various shapes, sizes and lethality were laid out on plastic folding tables, arranged by size and labeled numerically with masking tape. These were the result of a one-day gun buyback program offered by the New Haven Police Department Saturday.
“The success of events like these can be measured on more than one level,” said New Haven police spokesman Dave Hartman. “The first is obvious — 60 guns have been taken out of the picture no longer to pose a threat. And their destruction will see to that.”
They join 119 guns collected by police in Hartford on the same day. The two cities held the buybacks as part of a national effort to reduce gun violence by getting weapons off the street.
“There have been skeptics that think programs such as this don’t have as great of an impact as they really do,” Hartman said.
But destroying any gun might prevent a crime, he asserted.
“If you lawfully have a gun in your home, that doesn’t mean it can’t ultimately become a threat,” Hartman said. “If your home is burglarized and the gun is stolen, then that gun floats from one criminal activity to another throughout the community. That’s why it’s important that we accept these guns from anyone, no questions asked.”
In both New Haven and Hartford, residents were encouraged to turn in their guns anonymously in exchange for a Stop & Shop or Walmart gift card. The guns from both buybacks will be forensically tested for DNA, fingerprints and links to any crimes. Then they’ll be destroyed at the state police armory by being crushed and melted down.
The New Haven haul included 34 handguns, 26 long guns (including three sawed off shotguns), two fully automatic assault rifles and one Uzi. Police gave out gun locks free of charge to anyone turning in a weapon, and individuals were asked to fill out a questionnaire explaining the history of the gun and their motivations for bringing it in. All participants agreed to complete the survey.
“A number of elderly people came in,” said Pina Violana, injury prevention coordinator for Yale-New Haven Hospital. She helped coordinate the event. “They said they just wanted the guns out of their house — they had grandkids and worried for their safety but didn’t know how to get rid of them,” she said.
Some of the guns could have been considered collector’s items.
“You can look behind me on the table — there are a few that are old. That doesn’t make them less functioning,” Hartman said. “There are quite a few guns that are current model.”
Regardless of age, any functioning gun could cause harm, said New Haven Assistant Police Chief Tobin Hensgen. “Even an unusable gun can be used to scare or intimidate.”
On average, Hengsen explained, New Haven police pick up between 100 and 150 guns per year from crimes, street sweeps and traffic stops. “So here are sixty less guns we have to come face to face with on the streets.”
In Hartford, questions about effectiveness
Saturday marked Hartford’s third annual gun buyback. The Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Hartford Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center collaborated with the city, Hartford Police Department and the Hartford State Attorney’s Office to put it together.
“As pediatric surgeons, we take care of kids who are hurt by guns, and it’s sort of one of those things that’s frustrating,” said Dr. Brendan Campbell, director of Pediatric Trauma at CCMC, who spearheaded the Hartford event, held at the Community Renewal Team on Windsor Street.
But Campbell admits that the success of these programs is unproven. A report he co-authored on Connecticut’s buyback program notes that it would “need to be expanded significantly in order to impact rates of firearm violence in a meaningful way.”
The report finds that the number of guns sold in Connecticut each year render a gun buyback virtually ineffective: while 167 guns were collected in 2009, for example, 91,602 were sold in the state.
And a 2010 U.S Department of Justice guide for police notes that, “Evaluations have shown that gun buyback programs have no observable effect on either gun crime or gun-related injury rates. They do not directly target guns that are highly likely to be used in violence, and the characteristics of the guns collected reveal little overlap between crime guns and buyback guns.”
But Campbell maintains that the program is helpful.
“This is not about getting rid of all guns or banning guns entirely,” he said. “It’s about proper use and proper safety.
“What we’re looking to do is get unwanted firearms out of people’s homes,” he said. “If there’s a gun in their attic or closet, it’s an opportunity for criminals and kids to get into trouble. People who have a legitimate use for their firearm, we want them to keep them. We just want them to store them carefully.”