Twin Cities Should Be Proud of Gun Efforts

December 18, 2018 GMT

Every year, the number of unwanted firearms turned in during the annual “Goods for Guns” buyback program seems to decrease -- and that’s an encouraging sign, according to law-enforcement officials.

It means the program, which observed its 17th anniversary on Saturday, has been working, said Fitchburg Police Chief Ernest Martineau.

Co-founded by Dr. Michael P. Hirsh, Worcester Department of Public Health medical director and UMass Memorial Medical Center pediatric surgeon, and sponsored by Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early Jr.’s office,

UMass Memorial Hospital, and law enforcement officials, the gun buyback program has collected more than 2,500 weapons from 16 Central Massachusetts communities and 3,400 overall in the previous 16 years.

Other cities that participate in the buyback event -- timed for the anniversary of the Dec. 14, 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. -- include New Haven and Hartford, Conn., Boston, Springfield, plus San Francisco and San Mateo, Calif.

“It’s an effort that’s worth its while,” Martineau said about the program, which offers residents the opportunity to anonymously exchange any unwanted operable guns they might have for grocery gift cards. “It’s a project that we’re proud to be a part of.”

Older rifles trigger a $25 gift card, while returned handguns ($50) and semiautomatic weapons ($75) generate higher rewards.

Inoperable guns, ammunition, and firearm accessories don’t qualify for gift cards, but residents can still unload these unwanted items during the buyback program.

Every weapon -- no matter how old or obsolete -- has the potential to do harm. ”(They) may look harmless here, but you put (those) into someone’s hands on the street and it could turn into a dangerous situation,” Martineau told the newspaper. And as in the Sandy Hook mass murders, in which a mentally unstable shooter used his mother’s firearms to kill 20 children and six educators, removing guns from where mentally ill or drug-dependent individuals have access could prevent a future tragedy.

Leominster police Lt. Michael Ciccolini credits the anonymity of the program for its success. “We don’t ask (people) for their name and identity, we don’t run the weapons, they’re just destroyed,” Ciccolini told the newspaper. And the gift cards just add that extra incentive for residents to get rid of unwanted weapons.

Despite the epidemic of gun violence in this country, our local efforts do help keep a bad situation from getting worse by taking firearms out of circulation. If replicated nationwide, it could put a serious dent in gun availability and its lethal consequences.

According to Centers of Disease Control data, nearly 40,000 people in this country were killed by firearms in 2017 -- the highest recorded number in decades. Those deaths include homicide and suicide, unintentional deaths, and deaths in war or police interventions.

No, we can prevent every fatal shooting, but Fitchburg, Leominster and other participating Central Mass. communities can take pride in their grass-roots, gun-control contributions.