As the city grapples with an increase in gun violence, the New Haven Police Department is planning to respond with a program this Saturday that asks illegal firearm owners to turn in their weapons in exchange for gift cards.
From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., citizens can anonymously dispose of firearms at the New Haven Police Academy on Sherman Parkway — a working handgun can be exchanged for a $50 Walmart gift card, while working assault rifles or sawed-off shotguns will net a $100 gift card. The program, sponsored by the Injury Free Coalition for Kids, is part of what NHPD Assistant Chief John Velleca called a “broad-based” approach to tackling violent crime, especially timely given the Elm City registered its 31st murder Sunday evening.
“As crime in the city continues to trend downward, we cannot deny the increase in gun violence,” he said. “The evidence suggests that better gun control doesn’t necessarily reduce violence, but a broad-based approach tends to reduce homicide in general.”
The program coincides with a nationwide gun buyback day, NHPD spokesman David Hartman said. As part of the NHPD’s buyback, citizens turning in a firearm will be granted amnesty for possession of a firearm without a permit when they walk into the police academy, according to an NHPD press release.
By removing firearms from circulation, the NHPD will reduce the possibility they will fall into the hands of those who may perpetrate violent crime, Hartman explained. In particular, there is a “clear correlation” between the homicide rate and gun ownership, especially handgun ownership, Velleca added, citing a 1994 report titled “Firearms and Violence” published by the National Institute of Justice.
“Greater gun availability increases the rates of murder and felony gun use, but does not appear to affect general violence levels,” the report says. “In other words, we generally have a constant level of violence in our society, but guns allow a greater portion of that violence to become deadly.”
Richard Epstein, the chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners, said the city has conducted three gun buybacks in the last decade, taking an estimated 300 to 400guns off the streets. But the programs have not proven effective as a method of combating violent crime, he added.
Ward 12 Alderman Gerald Antunes, the vice-chair of the Board of Alderman’s public safety committee, said Nov. 7 that he thought gun buybacks were a “waste of time and resources” because they target the wrong population of gun owners.
“The people who give back guns and participate in this program are not the people who have illegal guns,” Antunes said Monday evening. “In one sense, the buybacks work to get guns out of circulation, but they do not work to get the guns out of the wrong hands.”
To better tackle the proliferation of guns in the community, the law should be tightened to control the sale of firearms, Antunes said. The private sale of weapons, for instance at gun shows, should be curtailed, he added.
But Hartman said the gun buyback is not NHPD’s only strategy for removing guns from the community — officers have a directive to seize handguns, he added.
The NHPD announced the gun buyback Sunday.