By JEROD CLAPP
NEW ALBANY —
Categorized, stacked and with firing mechanisms secured, the city’s first gun buyback program finished with 249 weapons purchased from residents Friday.
While the program was scheduled for noon to 8 p.m., the New Albany Police Department exhausted its $50,000 budget in about an hour and a half.
NAPD Maj. Keith Whitlow said he thought there would be good turnout, but was shocked when he got a call that people were lining up outside the Ekin Avenue Recreation Center at 9 a.m.
“I’m satisfied,” Whitlow said. “When you get rid of handguns, you make the streets safe. When you get rid of those and rifles, you’re making homes safer.”
Of the weapons that came in, Whitlow said there were two assault rifles, with the others either pistols, shotguns or rifles. Whitlow said after the guns were taken in, police would cross-reference them with a national database to make sure they weren’t stolen or affiliated with a crime investigation. If they cleared, police would destroy the weapons.
The program was billed as no-questions-asked. Whitlow said typically, buyback programs are marketed that way.
“The safety factor far outweighs any law enforcement issues whether it was stolen or used in a crime,” Whitlow said. “I would expect 90 percent of these guns, if not 99 percent, will come back with no record on them.”
The board of public works allotted the $50,000 budget for the program from the city’s quality of life fund. Residents could get $200 for most guns and $300 for assault rifles, which the police categorized as anything with a high-capacity magazine.
By 1:30 p.m., a line of about 200 people was turned away because of the city’s maximum spending limit. At least two unwanted guns were left behind.
Travis Murphy, a New Albany resident, wasn’t able to get in before the program was cut off, but said he wanted to make some extra cash with the guns he brought along. He said he knew the guns he brought with him weren’t worth much money and he wouldn’t be able to get as much money for them anywhere else. He said a lot of people in line with him were getting rid of guns that were either in bad shape or they just didn’t need anymore.
“I don’t even know if [this program] helps get guns off the streets or anything like that,” Murphy said. “I’m severely pro-gun ownership, so I think the majority of the people aren’t people who would commit crimes with these guns and I think they’re here for the same reasons as me.”
Sue Sanders, a New Albany resident, brought a .38 revolver that her father gave to her in the 1970s. She said she never wanted a gun, but had safety reasons for not keeping it around.
“I live with my daughter and she has a 5-year-old,” Sanders said. “I think they should do this more often when they get the funds. I didn’t realize there were so many people with guns out here.”
Mark Hengartner, a New Albany resident, said on top of the extra cash, he felt better about putting his old guns in the hands of police instead of someone who just wanted to buy them from him.
“I was going t get a lot more for them here than I would anywhere else,” Hengartner said. “They were registered in my name and I know they’d be destroyed. I didn’t want anything in my name circulating out there.”
Sherri Knight, NAPD chief, said whether they got old guns or new ones, she though the program helped make the city a little more safe.
“The whole purpose is so that the guns aren’t laying around where someone could steal them or misuse them,” Knight said. “We’ve got some people who are just bringing these guns because they don’t want them anymore.”
In a press release following the program, Mayor Jeff Gahan said the city will consider repeating the program again.
“I was pleased by the community’s response to this program, and the large turnout shows that there is support for this type of approach,” Gahan said. “The strong turnout suggests that we may need to consider similar events in the future. We can all be proud of our police — Chief Knight and her staff handled the procedures safely and efficiently. They did a super job.”
Whitlow said if police repeat the program, implementation of different rules such as asking specifically for handguns might be used. But he said since rifles and shotguns can be sawed-off to a concealable size, he’s still happy with the end result.
“If and when we do this again, we’ll modify our approach to make sure more people are included, maybe set up a limit and reduce the payout on some of these guns,” Whitlow said. “But we’ve got plenty of time to mull that over and come up with a good plan.”