New Haven Register: New Haven collects record number of guns in 2017 buy-back

Updated 7:14 pm, Saturday, December 16, 2017

NEW HAVEN — 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.”

New York Times: Guns Under the Christmas Tree, and Transformed Into Tools

Beyond the usual barometers of the Christmas marketing season — this year’s Fingerling toy is a must-have for children — there is the Black Friday tally of holiday gun buyers, which this year broke all previous records.

For the single-day binge of gun sales measured annually after Thanksgiving, the F.B.I. received 203,086 requests for background checks. This is the most ever in a single day, topping last year’s Black Friday high of 185,713 requests. (No immediate tweets from President Trump, the candidate of the National Rifle Association, that this is huge in making America great again.)

There were undoubtedly even more guns actually sold, since an F.B.I. request can cover a buyer’s multiple purchases. All seasonal evidence indicates that AR-15 assault rifles, the battlefield knockoffs familiar to so many Americans in the relentless tales of mass shootings, will be under many Christmas trees. “Bang for the buck!” enthused the blog post of one seasonal shopper. “I picked up a Bushmaster carbine with rebate for around $400 … I couldn’t be happier.”

Not to crimp such holiday cheer, but the police department in New Haven, Conn., plans a small biblical twist to America’s avid gun culture: a gun buyback on Saturday in which prison inmate volunteers will transform surrendered weapons into gardening tools to be provided to schools so students can plant and harvest vegetables for soup kitchens. 

The police worked out the buyback in cooperation with RAWtools Inc., a gun safety program that specializes in breaking apart firearms and reforging gun barrels into safer things, and the Newtown Foundation, created after the massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six staff members five years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

No one expects drastic results in crime statistics. But buybacks are considered important by police officials in various cities for getting some guns off the streets and out of owners’ badly secured homes. They are a tangible commitment to gun safety, particularly as elected politicians prove largely useless on the subject. Over the past six years, the New Haven police have collected nearly 700 guns in buybacks, run at government expense, in which the firearms were broken apart and discarded.

The new reforging approach is supported by Gun by Gun, a safety group run by private donations, and Yale-New Haven Hospital, whose emergency room chief, Gail D’Onofrio, speaks from the harshest experience: “Fewer guns means fewer deaths.” If nothing else, the forces at work in the plowshare buyback offer a humble reminder that there can be more to the gun safety issue than the monolithic standoff in Washington.

“You’re taking a weapon of death and turning it into the complete opposite, which is life,” said Steven Yanovsky of the Newtown Foundation. “So you go from a rifle or a handgun to carrots.”

Surrendered guns turned into gardening tools in latest New Haven gun buy-back

Updated 8:28 pm, Tuesday, December 12, 2017

NEW HAVEN — The city is putting a new twist on the police department’s annual gun buy-back event by transforming the relinquished weapons into gardening tools.

The New Haven Police Department and the Newtown Foundation will host a sponsored gun buy-back event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the New Haven Police Academy, 710 Sherman Parkway, where residents can anonymously drop off guns, without fear of being charged with illegal possession of that specific firearm, and receive a gift card.

Officer David Hartman, spokesman for the New Haven Police Department, said gun buy-backs typically have been just two steps. Instead of the abbreviated exchange of “thanks for the gun — here’s a gift card,” the department and its supporters are taking the event “many steps further,” beyond the simple collection and destruction of firearms.

This year, the collected firearms will be given to Gar Waterman, a local metal sculptor, who is going to chop down the firearms and render them destroyed. The destroyed pieces then will be turned over to the Department of Correction where volunteer inmates will forge the pieces into gardening tools, under the tutelage of Raw Tools, a Colorado-based nonprofit that turns donated weapons into garden tools, according to Hartman.

When Jose Feliciano, warden of the New Haven Correctional Center, first got the call about bringing guns in and giving them to inmates, he was skeptical. However, once he then read up on Raw Tools and saw what they do, he realized he had an opportunity to take the guns and make them into something positive.

 “It allows us to take this method of destruction, this murder machine, and turn it into something which is the polar opposite, something that is productive instead of destructive,” Steven Yanovsky, communications director for the Newtown Foundation, said. “The productivity will allow us to take this gardening tool, use it in a garden, plant vegetables. So you’re taking a weapon of death and turning it into the complete opposite, which is life. So you go from a rifle or a handgun to carrots.”

Thursday is the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown.

Upon learning about Raw Tools, which was founded in wake of Sandy Hook, and what it does, Yanovsky wondered how he could take this program and make this a reality in Connecticut. He realized the most effective way to make this happen was by partnering with a police department, as these “are the people dealing with this problem today and tomorrow.”

“We live in this country where gun violence is a growing epidemic, with 33,000 people a year getting shot to death, every year,” he said. “In talking to New Haven, our intent is to make this happen in police departments throughout the state. Every city in Connecticut should be running a program like this.”

Hartman said over the past five years, these events have collected and subsequently destroyed between 600 to 700 firearms. He noted that more firearms aren’t necessarily donated if the department holds more events, explaining that people usually want gift cards ahead of the holidays. The amount of the gift card will depend on the type of firearm turned in — $25 for single and double-shot handguns, $50 for rifles and shotguns, $100 for pistols and revolvers, and $200 for assault weapons, according to a press release.

He stressed that questions won’t be asked and identification will not be required upon people handing over the firearms. Police reminded residents in the press release that the guns must be delivered unloaded in clear plastic bags, with any ammunition delivered in a separate bags.

“Even if that gun itself is not in the hands of a criminal, it doesn’t make it much less likely that that gun could end up in the hands of a criminal,” Hartman said. “So it’s really important that we take guns from whoever wants to give it to us.”

Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, chief of emergency services at Yale New Haven Hospital, said emergency staff and physicians’ whole purpose in life is to save lives. While most people think doctors only save lives when a gunshot victims comes rolling through the front doors, she said those in the emergency department save lives everyday.

“We are the front door of the hospital as well as the front door of the community, and we reflect everything that goes on in the community. Therefore, most of our jobs to really save lives has to do with prevention [and] how to get fewer guns in the hands of people,” D’Onofrio said, reiterating the simple math that fewer guns means fewer deaths.

Dr. Pina Violano, manager of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of New Haven, added events like these start a dialogue of helping to educate people about gun safety. As a mother of four, she said it’s important to talk about prevention so these guns can be taken off the street and from homes before they get into hands of someone who can use them, intentionally or not, explaining that a 3-year-old is actually capable of pulling a trigger.

“Anything we can do to reduce the number of people shot to death in the city of New Haven is a step in the right direction,” Yanovsky said. “Yes, this is a baby step, but this where it starts, and hopefully, it will spread throughout the country.; @jesslerner on Twitter


Leave a Reply