City to receive $286,000 in federal housing money for gun buyback program

Officials expect to get more than 2,800 weapons

February 11, 2000|By Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields | Ivan Penn and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore will receive $286,000 in federal housing money to pay for a gun buyback program that the Clinton administration is pushing throughout the country to reduce gun violence.

The federal government is expected to make the money available in the next few weeks, after a written agreement is completed with the city. Baltimore will offer $50 for long guns and $100 for handguns and assault weapons. Officials expect to buy more than 2,800 guns during the program.

Baltimore's housing authority is one of 75 throughout the country that will receive the grant money, which totals $2.38 million. Housing authority police will run the buyback program.

Federal housing officials said an estimated 30,000 deaths -- including more than 1,000 accidental deaths and more than 18,000 suicides -- are caused by guns on streets or in homes.

In Baltimore, gun violence has been a leading concern. The city has had more than 300 homicides a year for a decade, largely because of gun violence.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said during his weekly news conference yesterday that he supports the program but would rather see the city purchasing guns used in actual crimes because the buybacks tend to attract "a lot of garbage guns."

Former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke initiated gun buybacks during his tenure, collecting more than 1,000 guns for $100 each on one Saturday in 1997.

Officials suspended the program on the second Saturday when police uncovered a scheme to pass off junk guns.

Other Maryland jurisdictions have tried similar efforts, including a gun trade in Westminster, where people could exchange firearms for Beanie Babies.

Some question the effectiveness of buyback programs.

Debbie Freeman, 34, whose brother was shot fatally 11 years ago in East Baltimore where she grew up, doubts the buyback will have any significant impact on gun violence. Homicides have increased since her brother was shot in the face at point-blank range. The decline in recent years has been marginal.

"If you put money out there, there is always a way to get what you want, especially guns," Freeman said.

Police Commissioner Ronald L. Daniel would not comment on the effectiveness of gun buybacks but pledged his support for the effort.

"We're going to assist housing in whatever manner they ask us to assist," Daniel said. "We cooperate very well with the housing authority."

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