No questions asked: County plans gun turn-in day June 4

May 18, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Responding to growing concern about violence, Howard County officials have organized a gun turn-in program they hope will make a difference.

"Dealing with this violence over time makes you say enough is enough," said Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey. "It's hard enough for officers to have to go to someone's home when a gun goes off and kills someone."

Chief Robey was one of a dozen supporters of the turn-in program who attended an organizational meeting at Howard County General Hospital yesterday.

The program is scheduled for June 4, between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia. Police say participants will not be questioned about any guns they turn in and a number of county security firms have agreed to offer 15 percent discounts on home security systems or services for every gun turned in. All firearms will be melted down at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point.

According to a recent survey by the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center based at Howard Community College and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, county residents believe they live in one of the safest counties in Maryland.

But one-third of the 330 residents questioned said they feared becoming a victim of violence in their homes or while out shopping. About 26 percent of the residents said they believed it is wise to keep guns in the home, according to the survey.

Chief Robey said most of the guns will probably come from ordinary residents who own guns or who have dusty weapons stored away that they want to get out of their homes. "I don't think we'll have criminals turning guns in," Chief Robey said.

In 1993, four murders were committed in Howard County, but none of them involved handguns, Chief Robey said. "But that doesn't mean we don't have a handgun problem," he said.

Last year, police collected at least 120 guns, from volunteer turn-ins to those recovered at crime scenes. Most handguns used in crimes in the county are used in convenience store robberies or quick street robberies, police said.

Police say firearms are a favorite item stolen in residential burglaries, the county's most frequent crime.

Chief Robey said weapons should be unloaded before they are turned in. If residents are afraid to handle weapons, county police will collect them.

"When the community and citizens groups get together it will make a difference," said State's Attorney William Hymes. "This affects all of us."

This week, pamphlets will be sent home with elementary school children throughout the county to alert parents to the program.

"It educates people and changes the way they think," said Julie Elseroad, organizer of Enough is Enough, a nonprofit Maryland group that helped county officials organize the program. On April 16, the group helped the Montgomery Sheriff's Office with a program that took in 164 guns.

"If you can cause people to feel responsible, that's a very large part of it. This will encourage everyday decent people to do the right thing," Ms. Elseroad said.

Ms. Elseroad said her group tries to conduct the turn-in programs at churches, because many people feel threatened when turning over the weapons at police stations. County officials say they have always had an open policy for turning in guns, but many people never knew about it.

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