King County groups raise $100,000 for gun buyback program


Seattle and King County leaders Tuesday said they’ve raised $100,000 to launch a gun-buyback program, despite studies — cited by both pro- and anti-gun groups — that buyback programs are largely ineffective.

“Bad guys don’t turn in their guns,” said Dave Workman, senior editor of GunMag, a publication of the Second Amendment Foundation.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was joined by four former mayors, police and community leaders at a news conference at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

“I want to be clear. This is just one tool in the toolbox. This isn’t going to solve our problems,” McGinn said.

Still, the mayor said that if the program averted one gun tragedy, it was worthwhile.

That’s a reversal from last week, when the mayor said gun-buyback programs were a little like “trying to bail out the ocean with a leaky bucket. I’d feel a lot better if we had some control at the front end.”

Courts last year struck down Seattle’s attempts to prohibit guns from parks and community centers, saying cities can’t enact laws more restrictive than the state’s.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings last month that left 26 people dead, including 20 children, city leaders have called on state legislators to approve tougher gun laws.

City Council members in December called for a ban on assault weapons, universal background checks — including at gun shows — and requirements for trigger locks and safe gun storage.

The Seattle-area leaders who announced the gun-buyback program said they wanted to do something immediate and concrete to get guns off the street.

A recent gun buyback in Los Angeles brought in more than 2,000 weapons, including 75 assault weapons.

The first Seattle gun buyback will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Jan. 26, under Interstate 5 between Cherry and James streets. Anyone who turns in weapons will receive up to a $100 gift card in exchange for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and a $200 gift card in exchange for assault weapons.

Seattle Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz said police won’t ask for any identification from people dropping off guns. The guns’ serial numbers will be examined to determine if any have been stolen and the original owners contacted, he said.

The remaining guns will be melted down by Nucor Steel in Seattle.

Seattle police also will distribute trigger locks for people who want to secure their remaining guns, Metz said. Trigger locks also are available at any police precinct station, he said.

Money for the weapons buyback has come from Amazon.com, which donated $30,000 in gift cards; the Seattle Police Foundation, which contributed $25,000; Nick and Leslie Hanauer, who pledged $25,000; and the University of Washington Medical Center, which pledged $10,000.

Former Seattle mayors Greg Nickels, Norm Rice, Charles Royer and Wes Uhlman are serving as co-chairs of the program.

The last Seattle weapons buyback was held in 1992 under Rice. That program netted 1,700 handguns. A subsequent evaluation of the buyback, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that the number of guns collected represented less than 1 percent of handguns in Seattle homes.

“The Seattle buyback program failed to reduce significantly the frequency of firearm injuries, deaths or crimes,” the evaluation said. It concluded that $1 million would be needed to buy back enough guns to make an impact on gun violence.

The 1992 program paid $50 per donor, regardless of the number of weapons turned in.

Workman, of GunMag, said the people returning weapons at buyback programs tend to be older and the guns often are in disrepair. He questioned whether $200 would be an incentive to turn in a semi-automatic sporting rifle, which he said has a typical retail value of $500 to $1,200.

Ralph Fascitelli, board president of Washington CeaseFire, echoed Workman’s skepticism about the buyback plan.

“We applaud the effort, but research shows it’s a feel-good measure that does little to end gun violence,” he said.

Fascitelli said his organization wasn’t contacted about the program, although, he said, they are the leading gun-control organization in the state.

He estimated that there are about 1.8 million guns in King County and that the buyback program “will be lucky to get 2,000 back.”

He said the money raised for the event would be better spent on a public-education campaign to inform people about the risks of having a gun in the home. He cited a Harvard School of Public Health study that found suicide is five times as likely if there’s a gun in the home, and that someone with a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to kill a family member or friend than an intruder.

Fascitelli said that while he’s hopeful the state will enact some new restrictions this year, the public needs more information about the prevalence of guns and the risks of gun ownership.

“Let’s have a coordinated public-education campaign,” he said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

___

(c)2013 The Seattle Times

Visit The Seattle Times at www.seattletimes.com