Don Ayars examines, catagorizes, and logs guns collected during the Salem County Prosecutors Office gun buyback at the Washington Fire Hall in Salem, Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014. (Jesse Bair | South Jersey Times)
UPDATE: During the six-hour gun buyback period, a total of 38 weapons were turned in, authorities said.
The intentions are good, but whether gun buybacks are an effective measure in reducing gun violence remains uncertain.
On Saturday, at the gun buyback, hosted by the Salem City Mayor’s Task Force at the Washington Fire Company, gun owners were encouraged to turn in firearms they no longer wanted — no questions asked.
Authorities said the program is mainly about encouraging law abiding gun owners to turn in their firearms in order to prevent criminals from being able to steal them from their homes.
Officials said buybacks are not as successful in procuring illegal firearms, as criminal are less likely to participate in a gun buyback program.
Organziers were unable to give concrete data to support the effectiveness of gun buybacks. However, Salem County Prosecutor John Lenahan said if the program prevents just one violent incident, it is worth it.
“There is a misnomer by critics who say, ‘who are you kidding — gang members aren’t going to bring in their firearms here — so what is the point?'” Lenahan said. “But this is mainly aimed at law abiding gun owners who are susceptible to burglarization; to turn in guns they are no longer using. All too often, criminals and gang members break into homes and take them which can be later used for violence.”
About 20 firearms were collected throughout the day, consisting of mostly rifles, with several handguns, a few worn antique firearms and some rounds of ammunition.
The program’s “no questions asked” policy allowed gun owners to bring in a firearm without having to give an explanation as to where it came from.
In return, gun owners received a $50 Visa gift card for their firearm Saturday.
Officials say the guns they typically receive are antique weapons that owners no longer want taking up space.
“But we are also promoting firearm safety and giving free gun locks, as well as literature,” said Quenton Mulford, investigator at the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office.
Salem City Police Chief John Pelura III said there’s often a misperception that the government wants to take peoples’ guns away.
“But that’s not the case,” he said. “This is for people who have guns that no longer want them.”
However, gun owners still had to give their names and addresses, not to mention that all firearms collected are given a thorough evaluation, to make sure they’re not stolen or linked to any crimes.
One local man who preferred to remain anonymous, and who was surrendering a pellet gun, was reluctant to give his name and address to the officers.
“Why do I have to give my name?” he asked irritated and wondering if he would still be able to receive the $50 gift card.
For cynics who only see the program as ineffectual frivolity, Lenahan said, “I rather be criticized for trying to do something, than doing nothing at all.”
The buyback was held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Salem County Chief of Detectives Brian Facemyer, who was helping throughout the day, acknowledged the limitations of Saturday’s program, but said it’s important to look at it, not through the lens of limitation, but rather “one piece of the puzzle” in securing firearms that pose a risk of being stolen by criminals or gang members.
Though this was the fifth gun buyback the county prosecutor’s office has been involved in — the last being in 2006 — it was the first year the program was spearheaded by Salem City leaders, like Mayor Charles Washington and Pastor Awood Jones, of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
Both said the program also served a symbolic purpose — getting local leaders, law enforcement and members of the community together in order to build relationships.
Washington and Jones both acknowledged the lack of trust that has developed within communities and local law enforcement agencies nationwide.
“We understand the stigma,” Jones said, standing next to Washington inside the garage of the firehouse. “As well as the obstacles we face in building a trustworthy relationship within the community.”
“And this is one avenue in building those community relationships,” Washington added.
The Salem City Mayor’s Task Force works in conjunction with the Salem Police Department; the Salem County Prosecutor’s Office; The Salem County Department of Health and Human Services; United Way of Salem County; Salem County Ministerium; NAACP of Salem County and the Mid-Atlantic States Career and Education Center Inc.
It was created to better the quality of life and improve the City of Salem by providing economic, educational and recreational resources that inspire hope.