Seattle, King County officials launch new gun buyback program

Jan 8, 2013, 5:24 AM | Updated: 5:36 pm
A new gun buyback program in Seattle and King County is the first since 1992 in response to a spike in homicides in the city. That year there were 60 murders in Seattle. (AP Photo/file)
(AP Photo/file)

Seattle and King County are launching a new Gun Safety Initiative that includes a gun buyback program in hopes of reducing the number of firearms in the community.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other law enforcement, health and community leaders announced the the new initiative Tuesday morning in Seattle.

McGinn says the program is modeled after other programs across the country. People will be allowed to anonymously turn in their unwanted weapons in exchange for a gift card valued at up to $100.00 for hand guns, shot guns and rifles. Assault weapons will be worth up to a $200.00 gift card. Officials say law enforcement officials will not take pictures of participants, track their license plates or run ballistic tests on the guns turned in.

“This gun buyback program can help us protect public health and safety and reduce gun violence in our communities,” said McGinn.

Seattle last had a buyback program in 1992 in response to a spike in homicides in the city. That year there were 60 murders in Seattle.

The city recovered 1,200 weapons in just four days, paying out $60,000.

The buyback, however, did little to curb the violence. The number of homicides went up in 1993 and 1994.

The first new gun buyback will be held on Saturday, January 26, 2013, from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm, in downtown Seattle in the parking lot underneath Interstate 5 between Cherry and James Streets.

The Seattle Police Department will also partner with other law enforcement agencies in King County and community and faith based organizations to set up other gun buyback locations throughout Seattle and King County, where individuals can turn in firearms anonymously and with no questions asked.

“If we can prevent just one child, one innocent bystander, from being the victim of a random accident, or the target of an unstable person, it will be well worth our time and effort,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

The effectiveness of such programs has been debated, but they very well might save lives, supporters said, and at worst can’t do any harm.

The program was announced on the two-year anniversary of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that killed six people and left then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically injured. It also came a month after a gunman in Newtown, Conn., opened fire in an elementary school, killing 20 children and six adults.

“This isn’t a trick, and this isn’t a sting. Whether you’re turning an anti-tank missile launcher you `found’ in your basement, or your Gammie’s old .45, the buyback is anonymous with no questions asked,” the police department said in a statement.

Amazon.com, which has been expanding its headquarters in Seattle, kicked in $30,000 in Amazon gift cards. In an emailed statement, the company said only that it thanked Seattle Mike McGinn for the invitation to participate and that it was happy to do so.

The Seattle Police Foundation donated $25,000, Seattle-based search engine optimization software company SEOmoz gave $10,000 and PEMCO insurance committed $5,000. That money will be used for gift cards from other retail or grocery stores.

By Tuesday afternoon, additional donors had come forward, with entrepreneur Nick Hanauer and his wife giving $25,000 and the University of Washington Medical Center pledging $10,000. That brought the total for the program to $108,000, the mayor’s office said.

A similar gun-buyback program in Los Angeles last month netted more than 2,000 weapons, including 901 handguns and two rocket launchers.

McGinn and Constantine said the buyback program isn’t designed as a panacea but as one tool to reduce gun violence. If a single shooting never materializes because of it, the effort will have been worth it, they said.

But Dave Workman, senior editor at The Gun Mag, a publication of the Second Amendment Foundation, described such programs as political theater that doesn’t make anyone safer.

He pointed to a 2004 study by the National Research Council. It questioned the effectiveness of such programs, saying the weapons typically turned in are those least likely to be used in criminal activities, guns are so readily available that the programs have little practical effect, and with tens of millions of handguns in circulation in the U.S., the odds any particular weapon will be used in a crime are minuscule.

“We’ve had a history of these gun buybacks around the country, and they really haven’t done anything,” Workman said.

Metz argued that getting unwanted guns out of the community is a laudable goal: It means they won’t be involved in an accidental shooting or stolen and used in a crime.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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