Violano shows her necklace made from pieces of destroyed guns. (Photo: Courtesy of Pina Volano)
Amid a rise in violent crime, the New Haven Police Department will once again hold its gun buyback program that was put on pause last year.
Renee Dominguez, the acting police chief, announced Tuesday that the department will carry out the 14th iteration of the event on Saturday at New Haven Police Academy, at 710 Sherman Parkway. Dominguez emphasized that the program accepts guns anonymously without any questions or proof of identification. The NHPD will also provide gun locks free of charge, while supplies last. Dominguez told the News that the buyback is intended to take weapons from individuals who no longer have any use for them or are unable to store them safely.
“When you think about the utility of a gun buyback, there’s a lot of focus on accidental discharges of guns, in-the-home suicides. … This is a way for us to give the community an option to get the gun out of the home,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker told the News.
Elicker noted that around 60 percent of the gun-related deaths nationally are suicides. Former NHPD Officer David Hartman who helped run the program a decade ago, recounted several scenarios where individuals may come to own a gun incidentally. For example, a family that inherits a gun from a deceased relative may not know how to dispose of it. In these cases, he said, a child or a “despondent” individual has a higher chance of coming into contact with a gun and causing harm.
Elicker said that the NHPD, the city’s Community Service Administration and its Youth Department are working to address the uptick in violence evident since the pandemic began.
Each gun that is turned in will be worth a certain amount of money. Dominguez said the NHPD will exchange $10 for BB guns, $25 for single- or double-shot handguns, $50 for rifles or shotguns, $100 for pistols or revolver handguns and $150 for assault rifles.
The surrendered guns will then be destroyed, and some remaining parts will be repurposed. One New Haven organization, Swords to Plowshares, will use some of these fragments to create tools such as anvils, hammers and gardening tools. These tools are then given out to agricultural high schools, public schools and community gardens. Some of the crops grown with these tools go to soup kitchens.
“So you’re taking an instrument of violence, and you’re creating a tomato,” said Hartman, who is now the Swords to Plowshares media liaison.
Pina Violano, the secretary of Swords to Plowshares, said that the buyback program is crucial to public safety because it reduces the number of guns that can contribute to unintentional violence.
She described the buyback as one part of a multi-pronged approach to getting guns away from children in order to prevent accidental shootings.
Dominguez said that over 1,000 guns have been bought back since the start of the NHPD program.
Hartman said that the program, which was one of the first in the Nutmeg State, has become a trailblazer, leading to other similar gun buybacks throughout the state and nearby Massachusetts. Hartman and the NHPD consult with departments in the tri-state area on how to best operate such programs.
Still, Hartman stated that there was pushback against the program in the beginning — the program started in 2011. He said that opponents accused the department of forwarding a “liberal agenda to confiscate guns.”
Saturday’s program will abide by COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, according to Lieutenant Robert Maturo, who is helping stage the event.
Elicker reiterated that the gun buyback is one of many programs meant to decrease gun violence in New Haven. He cited Project Safe Neighborhoods and Project Longevity, where officers call individuals that have a history in the prison system. The city also established a reentry walk-in center, where formerly incarcerated individuals will be dropped off after release and can receive housing and job support. Elicker also said that the city is finalizing a shooting task force, which focuses on investigating gun violence cases, and has partnered with the state’s parole and probation board.
Dominguez also pointed to the state senate Ethan’s law, which requires individuals to ensure that there is safe storage for guns in homes in which there are people under 18.
The NHPD buyback program started in 2011.
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