During all the coverage of the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT I noticed several stories about gun buy-back programs across the country. All of them were reporting increased participation and the various organizers attributed this to the Newtown event.
This got me thinking – what would I do today if I had an unwanted gun in my house? How could I turn it in, even if I did not want any money in return? If money would make a difference to me, how could I find an upcoming public buy-back program? Does my town or one nearby, sponsor such buy-back programs?
So I began to do general searches online and found no real useful information. Then I went to the web sites of three local police departments - my town of Monroe and that of the neighboring towns of Trumbull and Newtown. What I found, or more accurately what I did not find, was anything that addressed either buy-back programs or how to turn in a weapon.
I found sections with information on public programs from fingerprinting to seatbelt use to residential safety. I found procedures on how to apply for a gun carry permit. I found groups of FAQ’s (Frequently Asked Questions), but nothing about how to dispose of a firearm. To be fair, it is possible that some information existed but I could not find it. If so, then that is just as much of a problem as no information at all.
Many town websites tell people how to recycle everyday items; they describe their hazardous waste removal programs; they list how and/or where to turn in old electronic device, etc., but nothing about one of the most potentially deadly items that many people have in their homes.
So what should towns do?
Every town and every police department should develop a set of plans or procedures which would allow citizens to turn in their unwanted firearm at any time it is convenient for them.
It would be nice if the basic process was the same in each town. For example, do you bring the unloaded weapon into the building wrapped in a towel or bag, or do you leave it in the locked trunk of your car and have an officer come out and retrieve it?
Whatever process is put in place should be well publicized. Towns should put the information on their website in multiple places so it will be easy to find and get the word out through local media.
Towns should also pursue annual or periodic buy-back programs. Maybe several towns could form a group and rotate hosting an annual event. Towns could put seed money in their annual budgets and seek additional funds from the state, federal government, and non-profit organizations. Businesses could offer to provide direct funding or gift cards.
It is clear from other programs around the country as well as here in Connecticut that there are people who have guns that they no longer want. Many of those people will turn them in if given an opportunity and an easy way to do so.
While a buy-back program or an easy turn-in process may not have prevented the tragedy in Newtown, getting guns out of homes where people are willing to voluntarily do so seems like a good place to start.