New Haven collects record number of guns in 2017 buy-back
Bolstered by new support from the Newtown Foundation, the New Haven Police Department’s annual gun buy-back Saturday set an all-time record with 138 working guns turned in by the public, according to department spokesman Officer David Hartman.
Looking at tables covered with rifles and handguns Saturday afternoon as the 5-hour event was drawing to a close at the New Haven Police Academy, Hartman said, “Even with the snow, we easily broke the previous record of last year, which was 103.”
Hartman noted some of the people who brought in guns in exchange for gift cards said they were attracted by the new strategy of the guns being melted down and then transformed into gardening tools to grow vegetables for soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
Pina Violano, an injury prevention manager at Yale New Haven Hospital, said, “We had a couple who live near Hartford but they told us they came here instead of Hartford because we were turning weapons into tools.”
Violano is also director of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of New Haven. That group, as well as Yale New Haven Hospital’s Injury Prevention Program, partnered with the Police Department on the buy-back.
Violano noted New Haven’s effort was part of a national gun buy-back day.
Steve Yanovsky, communications director for the Newtown Foundation, who was at New Haven’s buy-back, said, “The NHPD jumped on this idea as soon as we pitched it. We want to do this every year. This is the first of many.”
Yanovsky added, “It’s incredibly reinforcing to see this many people come in and turn over their weapons to become gardening tools in community gardens. We’re taking something that can kill someone, weapons of death, and turning them into garden implements for vegetables to feed people.”
The firearms will be destroyed by New Haven-based sculptor Gar Waterman, then given to inmates at Connecticut prisons. Those inmates, supervised by staffers from the state Department of Correction, will forge the pieces into gardening tools.
The NHPD also enlisted the help of RAWtools, Inc., a gun safety program specializing in breaking apart firearms and reforging gun barrels into safer things.
Some of the gardening tools will go to New Haven public schools’ agricultural programs and eventually to local soup kitchens.
Yanovsky said, “We use the Biblical name for this: ‘swords into plowshares.’”
Yanovsky, who lives in New York, said he joined the Newtown Foundation after the massacre of 20 school children and six educators in that town’s Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago.
Yanovsky regularly informs the public that 33,000 people are shot to death every year in the U.S.
He said: “I had watched all the mass shootings like Columbine and Virginia Tech and wondered: ‘When is it enough?’ Sandy Hook tipped me over the edge. I was so overwhelmed that I reached out to them and said: ‘I want to help you.’”
Hartman noted, “When you have an organization like the Newtown Foundation involved, you have a different passion. This is personal now for everybody.”
Another participant in the event was Gun By Gun, a San Francisco-based group dedicated to curbing gun violence. That organization raised $3,100 for the buy-back.
Violano said the people who turned in weapons Saturday were asked to fill out a survey. “Four percent told us somebody in their home has committed suicide with a gun. Thirteen percent said somebody in their home has attempted suicide with a gun.”
“People are realizing that having a gun in the house increases the chances of something happening in their family, including to their children,” Yanovsky said.
Those who came in with weapons were promised anonymity. An East Haven woman who turned in a long rifle and a handgun after a discussion with her male partner said, “We were thinking: ‘We have these guns. Are we using them? What are they for? Why are they here? Get them out of here, get them to the proper place.’”
“For me, it’s about safety,” she said. Indeed, she said she now feels safer with those weapons out of her house.
“This is wonderful, that they’re doing this,” she said of the buy-back. “Look at Sandy Hook. You look at these guns and you think of what happened that day.”
“This today was a really great experience,” she added. “I told my neighbor about it and he brought something in too. He texted me that it was an awesome experience.”
In exchange for her weapon donations, she received $150 in American Express gift cards. Participants also had the choice of accepting gift cards from Stop & Shop, Target, Walmart, Kohl’s and Amazon.
A Hamden man who brought in two rifles and a pistol chose $200 in gift cards from American Express. Asked why he had participated, he said, “I just wanted to help.” When asked if he could say more, he simply replied, “Family” and declined to elaborate.
Hartman said the 138 weapons turned in included four derringers, 74 handguns and 60 long guns (rifles and shotguns), including two assault-type weapons. He said 70 people brought in guns Saturday.
Hartman acknowledged he had heard criticism from some people that police were “taking away guns.” He explained: “This is not an anti-gun event. It’s a gun safety, gun responsibility event. We’re not here to take people’s guns away. We’re here to accept their guns that they bring in voluntarily.”
He said over the past five years New Haven police have collected up to 700 weapons in the annual buy-backs.
Filmmaker Adam Michael Kuhn was also at the event Saturday, as he is working with police on a documentary about the buy-backs. Pointing to a handgun on a table, Kuhn said, “By next summer, this thing will be a tomato.”