Courts and Crime
Monday, June 17, 2013
Buying back guns is strictly business
Cleveland police annual buyback offered gift cards for firearms, but when those ran out, some people held onto their guns
by WKSU's KABIR BHATIA
The Cleveland Police Department held its annual gun buyback over the weekend, swapping gift cards for certain types of firearms. Opponents say such programs waste taxpayer dollars and destroy desirable weapons. And as WKSU’s Kabir Bhatia reports, in many cases it comes down to a matter of economics.
|Although any working handgun or semi-automatic rifle was eligible for a gift card, CPD accepted any firearm for melting down|
|Courtesy of K. Bhatia|
|Download (WKSU Only)|
|The gun buyback’s stated mission is to get working handguns or semi-automatic rifles off the streets. This year, about 350 pieces were collected at the Safety Center in exchange for $100 to $200 gift cards, plus tickets to the Lake Erie Monsters or Cavs and a chance at a $1,000 raffle. Non-semi-automatic rifles and shotguns were accepted, too, but with no incentives. All the items will be cataloged and then melted down by ArcelorMittal.|
A need for incentives
Cleveland police Sgt. Sammy Morris says this year’s program was a success. Gift cards ran out shortly before the 1 p.m. deadline, and about 50 more guns came in this year than last. Asked why the buyback doesn’t happen more often, Morris said the reason is money. "if you want to become one of our sponsors and help us out with gift cards and all that, we’ll do it as often as you can get us gift cards.”
Cleveland police saw everything come through from starter pistols to shotguns to antique revolvers.
“Just about everyone, when they were talking [and] telling their story, it was, ‘I had this gun laying around the house [and] I don’t need it anymore. I don’t want the gun’.”
Show me the money
But for some folks, that feeling isn’t enough to just give away a gun. When the incentives ran out, people like Paul Jefferson decided not to hand over their firearms. He had a half-dozen rifles and two pistols.
“I still wanted to turn the guns in," he said. "But at this point in time, I’m willing to sell them to anybody – a dealer, not [just] anybody on the street.”
When asked why he didn't want them anymore, he said, "There’s no need to have this stuff around. The kids are grown now. We don’t have to protect the house the way we used to.”
Cash for Guns
He eventually sold both pistols for $120 to Reese McCracken, who set up with just a hand-made “Cash for Guns” sign on the corner one block east of the buyback. He was offering money for items that piqued his interest. About 50 people approached him on the way to the Safety Center downtown, near Cleveland State University. Most he turned away because the pieces didn’t interest him or were broken, but he did buy six pistols for himself that were in working order.
“They’re pieces of history. And to the law-abiding citizens of Cleveland, we don’t look at them as a harmful thing. Everybody wants cash. And gift cards, of course they’ll come in use, but cash is king.”
Gun advocates have become increasingly critical of buybacks. And in Arizona, lawmakers last month passed a law forbidding police from destroying guns obtained in such programs. Instead, they have to be sold to federally licensed dealers.
Some researchers question the effectiveness of buybacks in fighting gun violence. A study from the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing at the University of Wisconsin says the people attracted to buybacks are usually the least likely to commit crimes.
Instead, the study says increased police patrols, intervention with known felons and tougher gun laws are more effective.