With hopes of retrieving unwanted firearms, the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) hosted a gun-buyback program on Saturday, June 8, at the North Patrol Substation on Atlantic Avenue.
One purpose of the program was to decrease the chances of firearms ending up in the wrong hands.
“The goal of the program is to reduce the number of guns in the community. While there are many lawful gun owners, their guns are sometimes stolen and used in the commission of a violent crime,” said Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, in a statement released by the LBPD. “Reducing the number of guns would lessen the chances of this happening.”
The program was not intended to trap criminals, but to find out if the firearms people turned in had previously been used in crimes, LBPD Sgt. Aaron Eaton said. Oftentimes guns get passed around so much that someone can unknowingly end up with a firearm that’s been used in a crime, Eaton said.
While the gun-buyback program had specific aims, it was inspired by the recent spate of tragic mass shootings nationwide. Eighth District Councilmember Al Austin, who, along with councilmembers Steve Neal and James Johnson, initiated the program, said he was inspired by the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and that he hoped the program would curb gun violence in Long Beach.
“It was a vision of the city council…for us to do all we can as a city to prevent gun violence, and if a gun-buyback program takes one or two guns off the streets or out of homes that may be burglarized and used for crime, we’ve done a huge service for our city,” Austin said.
The program was “also an awareness measure in terms of gun safety,” Austin added.
Yet there is debate about the effectiveness of gun buybacks.
In an interview with National Public Radio, Jon Vernick, a co-director at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University, said that there’s no evidence that these programs reduce the number of crimes on the street and that, since criminals usually don’t take part in the buybacks, “guns that get turned in don’t tend to be the high-risk guns.” But gun-buyback events can raise awareness, Vernick said. Vernick didn’t respond to the Signal Tribune’s requests for comment.
During the gun-buyback event, which lasted from 10am to 6pm, those selling their firearms would enter the buyback zone of the police station from Del Amo Boulevard, be stopped and questioned by an officer (they were asked for identification), and then drive into the area and speak with detectives, who would go into the trunk of the vehicle and secure the firearm, making sure that it’s not loaded, Eaton said. After that, detectives would give them gift cards from Vons or Target (paid for by the city) and supply them with gun safety material, all while the driver would stay in the vehicle, Eaton said.
“We want to make it as convenient as possible so they can just show up, drop it [the guns] off, and then move on,” Eaton said.
The gift cards were worth: $50 for non-functioning firearms; $100 for rifles, shotguns and handguns; and $200 for assault rifles, according to the City’s website.
More than 25 employees staffed the event, including crime-lab workers, detectives, and other officers who aided in the handling of the weapons, Eaton said. According to a press release issued Thursday by the LBPD, 168 weapons had been collected.
Firearms that don’t match any crimes would be destroyed, Eaton added.
One of the people selling back firearms was Tim McCoy of Bixby Knolls, who thought that the City of Santa Monica should have a gun-buyback program in the wake of the recent mass shooting there. A self-described “avid hunter and sportsman,” McCoy said he sold back three extra shotguns that he doesn’t use anymore so that they don’t end up in the wrong hands.
“I just wanted them out of my garage in case someone broke into my garage and might use them for something,” McCoy said. “The more guns off the street, the better.”