NHPD begins gun buyback program

Armed with gift cards, the New Haven Police Department is looking to get approximately 100 functioning firearms off the streets in time for the holidays.

As part of a gun buyback program launched yesterday, the NHPD is offering a $100 gift card to residents in exchange for each firearm brought to police headquarters over the next couple of weeks. The program is the first of its kind in New Haven in over a decade, so its effectiveness is yet to be determined.

Police Commission chair Richard Epstein said the commissioners proposed the idea last summer in response to a recent increase in gun violence. The program is based on successful gun buyback programs in other cities such as Boston, he said.

“The motivation was to try to get guns off the streets, understanding that this alone would not be the solution but be part of the solution,” he said. “It’s just a small piece of the puzzle.”

While Epstein does not expect hardened criminals to bring in their guns and to stop committing crimes, he said bringing in guns could prevent the firearms from being stolen and subsequently used. The approach could also prevent tragedies in which guns are used in the heat of the moment, he said.

NHPD spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said the program was designed to give New Haven residents an opportunity to get rid of guns in a safe manner.

In exchange for gift cards, residents — though not gun dealers — may bring up to five unloaded, functioning firearms per day to police headquarters at 1 Union Ave. The program will run Tuesday through Saturday afternoons from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. until Dec. 23. But Winchester said the NHPD only has enough funds to offer approximately 100 gift cards, which can be used at a number of local stores, including Shaw’s and Wal-Mart.

Epstein said there had originally been some concern that the money used for the program would be taken from other violence-prevention resources. But all the money has been raised from private donors, he said, and will not affect the budgets of other programs.

“We reached out to area businesses and businesses with a connection to the City of New Haven, and … they did it very willingly,” he said.

Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said he agrees that the buyback program is only a small part of the solution. He said he and other members of the Black and Hispanic Caucus would like to see more done to catch people illegally bringing guns into the city, which he called a bigger problem.

“It’s good to buy the guns back and get them off the streets, but that’s not going to solve the problem,” he said. “We need to find the people [supplying] the guns [to city residents].”

Winchester said residents must store their unloaded firearms in clear plastic bags inside another container, such as a backpack, while bringing them to police headquarters. If the guns are transported in a car, they must be kept in the trunk, and all ammunition must be in a separate bag.

Once a firearm has been accepted, police will analyze the gun to determine if it has been used in a crime, Winchester said. If so, it will be preserved as evidence. Otherwise it will be destroyed.

The NHPD will also accept nonfunctional guns, rifles, shotguns, antique firearms, BB guns and holsters, though it will not give gift cards in exchange.

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