Hartford Gun Buyback Breaks Records Amidst Prevalence of Suicides, School Shootings | Connecticut Public Radio
WNPR

Hartford Gun Buyback Breaks Records Amidst Prevalence of Suicides, School Shootings

Dec 18, 2018

At the 10th Annual Capitol Region Gun Buyback Program, 137 guns were turned in within six hours, doubling last year's numbers. 

It was Hartford's first and only buyback of the year, apart of a collaboration between the Hartford Police Department, State's Attorney's Office, Community Renewal Team (CRT), Connecticut Children's Medical Center, Saint Francis Hospital, and Hartford Hospital.  

A steady stream of people carrying guns—from pistols and shot guns to rifles and revolvers—wrapped in plastic, stuck in paper bags or even boxes, began walking into CRT's offices at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Just two hours later, HPD had already received and logged over 65 guns. Dr. David Shapiro, a trauma surgeon at St. Francis, said the buyback can help to decrease firearm injuries.

"Those are opportunities to take a firearm that could be dangerous to someone—a toddler that's curious, a young child that's playing with things that they find, a teenager who may be feeling depressed or suicidal or an adult in the same situation," Shapiro said, "or theft because stolen firearms from community homes in the suburbs are where the firearms in the city of Hartford come from."

Windsor was the top town where guns came from according to an on-site survey. The surveys have been issued since 2009 as apart of an ongoing research effort that Marisol Feliciano, the Injury and Violence Prevention Program Coordinator at St. Francis, oversees. Beyond zip codes, the survey asks about age, gender, race, education, how firearms and ammunition are stored, the reason for turning in the gun, and other questions. 

People turning in shotguns and rifles received $25 Stop & Shop gift cards for each gun.
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

"I wanted to get rid of this assault rifle I had," said Arnold Smith, a Windsor resident. "I used to go to the range quite a bit but after that thing happened in Newtown, I didn't want anymore parts of it."

It's been six years since Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lt. Paul Cicero with HPD's Major Crimes Divison said he sees a pattern.

"Whenever there's critical incidents across the country, we see an influx of people that want to turn in their guns like school shootings or mass shootings," Cicero said. "People look in their closets and they just don't want them anymore or have no use for them."

At the buyback, people were able to turn in their guns anonymously. A woman from Newington turned in a rifle that was gifted to her husband. The couple is moving to Florida and wanted to get rid of it safely. A father from Manchester who's had his hunting license since the 1990s said it was time to turn in his rifles because he hadn't used them in years. Another woman from Bloomfield turned in a gun that belonged to her great-grandfather. HPD had on-site armorers who helped identify if certain guns were antique items better suited for an auction than getting cataloged, then destroyed.

Outside, Michael Picard stood on the sidewalk for hours with a 9mm gun on his hip, holding a sign that read, "PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE. ARM YOURSELF." He became a gun owner in 2015 after someone tried to rob him.

Michael Picard stood outside of the buyback for hours on Saturday with this sign and a handgun attached to his hip.
Credit Frankie Graziano / Connecticut Public Radio

"The best chance you have to defend yourself is to own a gun," Picard said. "You are your best chance to defend yourself." 

Picard doesn't believe gun buybacks prevent gun violence.

"I think that most of the people that come to these events are mom and pop or young people who have inherited older guns that come to just turn them in," Picard said.

Saturday's event was heavily attended by senior citizens. Sgt. Chris Mastrioanni with HPD's Vice, Intel & Narcotics Division said there's misconceptions about what the goals of buybacks are and who they attract.

"I think [when] a lot of people think of a gun buyback, they think of your stereotypical hardened criminals walking in and turning their guns in and turning their back on crime," said Mastrioanni. "That's not really what the gun buyback is. It's an avenue for people to get rid of guns that could end up in the wrong people's hands."

Mastrioanni helped secure a $10,000 budget for Stop & Shop gift cards that were given in exchange for firearms—$200 for assault rifles, $100 for handguns and revolvers, and $25 for shotguns and rifles. By 2 p.m., they'd ran out of gift cards and instead promised to mail them to people. 

"We're not trying to compete with street value. Someone who has a weapon that they're looking to trade for drugs or money on the street—we're probably not going to sway those people and change their minds into getting  a gift card," he said.

Mastrioanni says gun buybacks shouldn't be perceived as the only strategy for stopping gun violence or the only reason that buyback programs exist.

"I can't promise that the gun buybacks stop violence at all but anytime you can get 130 guns in one six-hour setting off the streets, especially with two assault rifles," he said, "it's not even always about crime, you have kids who could hurt themselves."

By the end of the day, four assault rifles, 42 pistols, 46 revolvers, 19 rifles, 25 shotguns, and 1 derringer  pistol had been collected. Smaller guns are more frequently used in violent incidents across the city. According to HPD, there have been 121 non-fatal shootings in Hartford this year. The death of Karlonzo Taylor, the 17-year-old who was shot and killed earlier this month, was the 20th homicide of the year.