On the day police were buying back guns from local residents at a half dozen Bronx churches, a man, who asked to be identified only as A.J., explained how easy it was to purchase a gun on the street.
“I could bring you to a spot where you could buy a gun right now,” he said. “Guns are easier to get than weed. I could show you a 12-year-old that has a gun. It’s [the gun buy-back program] as ineffective as Crime Stoppers [an anonymous crime tip hotline] and the D.A.R.E. program [a youth anti-drug campaign]. I don’t think the recession will get people to turn in their guns, when they can go rob two people and make more money.”
Nearly 20 other Bronx locals who were asked about the program agreed with A.J. that gun crime would not be significantly affected by programs like the gun buy-back event, which coincided with 13 shooting incidents in the borough that weekend. A minority was more optimistic about the program.
Since the program began in July 2008, the partnership between the New York Police Department, the district attorney’s office and local churches has netted 4,538 guns in seven one-day events (one in each borough, and three in Brooklyn). In exchange for guns, anonymous participants receive a $200 cash card for handguns, rifles and shotguns and $20 for air pistols and BB guns. So far, $816,768 has been spent on the gun buy-back program.
The Bronx gun buy-back effort yielded 987 guns – more than during any other single-day event.
Among the weapons bought by authorities in the Bronx were 296 revolvers, 174 semi-automatic pistols, 21 assault weapons, 13 sawed-off shotguns, 242 rifles, and 163 shotguns. Police evacuated New Gospel Temple Church of God in Christ, near Crotona Park, when one man tried to turn in a live hand grenade.
Shamsuddin A. Abdul-Hakim Bey, a mental health counseling student, thought that people with prior records and people who were afraid they were putting their loved ones in danger by owning a gun would be the most likely to turn in their guns. Bey said paranoia about the police might deter people from turning in their guns.
Nestor Cruz, who works at the A&O Surgical Supply store on Gun Hill Road was nearly alone in his optimism. He had heard of the program, and said every little effort will help.
“I think it will be effective,” he said. “It depends on the area. A lot of people don’t want to get rid of their guns depending on where they live, if they have a family.”
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson put it more simply. “Guns are instruments of death that are responsible for much pain and suffering, and whatever we can do remove them from circulation should be encouraged,” he said in a statement.
All the guns collected in these buy-back programs are inventoried and examined for caliber and specific bullet markings by NYPD ballistics experts. The guns are not tested for DNA or dusted for fingerprints upon collection, but any guns whose ballistic results show they may have been used in a crime are further investigated and entered into criminal evidence for any relevant cases.
The NYPD also checks serial numbers to see if they match any reports of stolen guns, but police say the majority of guns collected in the buy-back program do not have serial numbers.
Guns with no ballistic connection to a crime, and guns whose serial numbers have not been reported stolen, are melted into wire hangers.