Police sponsor gun buyback in Annapolis

42 weapons turned in

critics say programs do little to cut crime

`Sighs of relief'

April 09, 2000|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Annapolis staged its first gun buyback yesterday, even though only three shootings occurred in Maryland's touristy sailing capital during the past two years.

Police maintained the buyback, which collected 42 firearms, was necessary because residents have reported hearing gunfire on weekends in recent months. Police offered $50 for each working gun turned in -- $100 if the gun were new or high-powered.

"We know the weapons are out there, and we want them off the streets," said Lt. Robert E. Beans. "It's only a matter of time before someone gets connected with a stray bullet. We want to beproactive. We're not going to wait until people get shot."

Although some experts say gun buybacks are ineffective in reducing crime, area police departments have collected thousands of firearms through such events. Last summer, Washington police paid out almost $300,000 for nearly 3,000 guns. In Baltimore, a 1997 buyback was so popular that police netted as many guns in a day -- 1,000 -- as they said they would normally collect in a month. In 1998, a Westminster toy store and the local police department offered popular Beanie Baby toys in exchange for guns.

Annapolis police paid $2,050 for 26 handguns and 16 rifles yesterday, most of which were within the .22-caliber to .25-caliber range. Police did not pay for one of the handguns because it did not work. Beans said police were glad to reduce the number of weapons available to criminals, lessen the risk of accidental shootings at home and help citizens who wanted to get rid of their guns.

"Many of them were excited just to get it out of their house," Beans said. "You could see the sighs of relief as they were walking out, that the weapons were no longer in their possession."

City police and Housing Authority officials began considering a buyback last summer at the suggestion of Alderman Cynthia A. Carter, a Democrat who represents Eastport. An elderly resident had approached Carter, saying she had found a handgun in her home and didn't know what to do with it. Carter noted the success of Washington's buyback and thought a similar program could succeed in Annapolis.

With $1,500 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development -- part of a $15 million national program to reduce gun violence in public housing -- and $3,500 from the city Housing Authority, police set about buying guns from residents.

Annapolis police will have a second buyback April 22 at the Eastport Fire Station. All guns collected will be destroyed.

Beans said people who show up with weapons don't have to provide their names or give explanations.

Some at the Clay Street Recreation Center yesterday said the buyback offered an opportunity to dispose of unwanted weapons.

"I found a gun laying on the side of the road under some trees and I knew it shouldn't be there," said a 50-year-old Annapolis resident who wanted to remain anonymous. "A child could have picked it up."

A 66-year-old Los Angeles man who also didn't want to be named said the buyback helped him dispose of weapons he found while cleaning the closet of a deceased uncle in Annapolis. He handed over two revolvers, a U.S. Army handgun dating to World War I and a shotgun.

"What else can I do with them?" he said. "I can't take them home. I can't give them away. They're so old, if anyone tried to use them, they'd probably blow up in their hands."

Jon Vernick, associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who has studied gun buybacks, said most participants in such programs are seniors and women.

"We don't see very many young males turning guns in," Vernick said. "And those are the people who are disproportionately involved in violent crimes."

While such programs often yield hundreds of guns, the weapons turned in usually are low-caliber revolvers instead of the high-powered weapons that criminals tend to use, he said. And the guns turned in usually have not been used in a crime.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said last week that he does not plan to organize any more gun buybacks for that reason.

"I don't think gun buybacks are very effective at all," he said.

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