TSUTSUMI ACUNA: The difference one gun makes

My family keeps a collection of anecdotes that always reappear in our conversations. There’s the one about the time Dad fell through the screen door during a family reunion, or the time Mom almost set the house on fire while cooking Thanksgiving dinner. Then there’s that one about the time that Mom and Dad were held at gunpoint during a date.

Back in 1997, when Mexico was not as safe as it is today, my parents were getting out of their car on their way to dinner. A black van with its headlights off pulled up and two men with guns jumped out. A third remained in the driver’s seat. One of the men held a gun to my dad’s head and the other pointed a gun straight at my mom. My dad pleaded with them not to hurt her. He pulled out some cash from his pocket and offered it to the men in exchange for their safety. But they didn’t want the cash; they wanted the car. They proceeded to take both before making their escape. Within minutes the men had fled — the guns were gone — and all that remained was the lingering terror that inundated the dark and empty street.

Today, Mexico has strict gun laws. Citizens are prohibited from openly carrying firearms or concealed weapons in public. However, Mexico also had 12,394 drug-related killings in the year 2012 alone. In the face of rampant violence, Mexico has taken a proactive step to address violent crime.

Recently, a citywide cash-for-guns program was initiated at the Basilica of St. Mary of Guadalupe. According to a recent New York Times article, citizens have been encouraged by Mexico City officials to trade in their weapons with complete anonymity in exchange for cash. Since the start of the buyback program in December, 3,500 guns have been brought in.

As Mexico fights the war on drugs, we are struggling here in our own fight against the unnecessary massacres taking place at home. Our fight will be a hard one considering the Senate’s recent failure to pass legislation expanding background checks. But legislative measures are not the only way to win this battle. What about expanding the implementation of buyback programs in the US? It’s an idea that already exists on both sides of the border.

Here’s why it works: A chance to make money with a relatively small effort incentivizes citizens to participate. It also provides citizens with a sense of control over a situation that is largely beyond their capacity to fix. Critics argue that programs like these aren’t far-reaching enough to significantly control the estimated 310 million guns in the United States. However, it isn’t expected for gun buyback programs to single-handedly solve the problem of gun violence. What they can do is create awareness of an issue that is plaguing our country.

Those participating in gun buyback programs are most likely citizens that pose little threat, maybe citizens who no longer find any use for these weapons. Some of the guns that are exchanged are old and no longer work. But some of these guns may also have had the potential to fall into the wrong hands. There are no safeguards to ensure that the rightful owner maintains possession of a gun. For every gun that is traded in there is one less chance that a child dies of an accidental death, that a suicide is facilitated or that a criminal breaking into someone’s home gets their hands on a weapon.

How many times have you been told that every vote makes a difference? Or every dollar makes a difference? It’s easy to roll your eyes, run through the statistics and come to the conclusion that your vote will never be the one to sway the results of an election, or that your dollar will never be the one responsible for saving someone’s life. But we continue to vote and we continue to donate because there is the hope, the slight chance, that if enough of us do it, we will make a difference. We can bring about necessary change, one buyback at a time. Every gun makes a difference.

In my family’s collection of anecdotes, we have the story of the time that Mom and Dad were held at gunpoint and lived. But stories that involve guns rarely have happy endings. This country must continue its fight against violence, because no American family should have to hold on to the pain and the tragedy of an anecdote about a shooting.

Ida Tsutsumi Acuna is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact her at ida.tsutsumiacuna@yale.edu .

This column is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to continue.

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