Languages
Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 16:17 UK

NY aims to 'buy' guns off streets

By Matthew Wells
BBC News, Brooklyn

Handgun
Gun crime is still claiming lives in New York City

New York City is experiencing its lowest murder rate in 45 years but the illegal gun trade continues every day, with deadly consequences.

Each week, it seems, an innocent bystander gets in the wrong place at the wrong time and is shot - a tragic side-effect of the pre-meditated gun violence of street gangs and the drugs trade.

The district attorney with responsibility for Brooklyn, Charles Hynes, in conjunction with the city's police department, is trying a radical solution to get weapons off the street.

The borough's second "Gun Buyback" day took place on 13 September, with more planned for future months.

The idea is simple - pay $200 (£109) per weapon to anybody who is prepared to bring an unregistered but functioning firearm in off the street, without fear of arrest or identification.

And what happens to the guns that are received? Authorities say that they are melted down and turned into coat-hangers for local cleaning businesses.

Churches used

To ease gun-owners' concerns, churches in areas which are experiencing an upturn in violent crime have been asked to host the six-hour-long amnesty events.

The first Buyback day in July netted 697 weapons of all calibres and more than 400 guns were handed in this month.

One of the church leaders involved, Fr Michael Perry of Our Lady of Refuge Roman Catholic Church, said he was delighted to provide space.

Father Michael Perry
Father Michael Perry hopes the scheme will stop tragic shootings

He said: "For a long time we've been able to bring guns into the precinct but who wants to go to where all the cops are?"

One young couple had brought in six guns between them - the maximum allowed for two people under the scheme - and claimed to have three more in the car, said Fr Perry.

"Only last year in this parish, two young men - best friends - found a gun in the house, looked at it, and now there is only one left," he said.

"That's what we're trying to avoid."

BBC News visited several of the sites dotted around south Brooklyn during the afternoon but police did not allow reporters inside.

Sense of relief

After handing over their weapons, some of the unusual church visitors were prepared to talk on the street, relieved to be a little richer and no longer breaking the law.

"I didn't tell nobody I was coming down here," said one middle-aged man who dropped off a .38 handgun.

"Now I can pay some bills," said another, who had brought in a pistol.

Bernard Bush, 49, said he was happy to be identified as he had only been helping out a young relative who was too frightened to turn in his shotgun.

"I'm hoping that it was never used to really kill somebody," said Mr Bush, adding that gun violence was a nightly part of his experience living in Brooklyn.

Charles Hynes
District Attorney Charles Hynes would like regular gun amnesties

He said he had been treated well by police handling the buy-back, whose charm offensive included a cup of coffee. Mr Bush said he would urge youngsters with guns to bring their weapons along next time:

"It's money… [and that's] the only thing they understand."

Among the haul of weapons were 86 semi-automatic handguns, five assault weapons and 94 rifles.

Mr Hynes told BBC News that if his department could cover the running-costs of the operation, he would "like to do this every six weeks".

Speaking in his downtown Brooklyn office, Mr Hynes said that if only 10% of the seized weapons had been used in anger on the streets, that represented dozens of lives saved.

"It's inconsequential to me who is giving us the gun," he said. "All I want to have is the gun off the street."

The law for being caught in possession of any firearm in New York is clear - a mandatory jail term of three and a half years.

But everyone understands that hardened criminals in Brooklyn or the Bronx, who crossed the line a long time ago, are not about to walk into a church and sacrifice their weapons for a few hundred dollars.


SEE ALSO
Police acquitted over NY shooting
25 Apr 08 |  Americas
Were New York cops trigger happy?
24 Apr 08 |  Americas
NY police kill man on wedding day
26 Nov 06 |  Americas
Mayor 'disturbed' by NY shooting
27 Nov 06 |  Americas
NY rally deplores police shooting
27 Nov 06 |  Americas
NY police trial for groom's death
25 Feb 08 |  Americas

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

Copyright © 2017 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific