Local News

Saturday, Mar 09 2013 08:00 PM

Local law enforcement largely unconvinced on gun buybacks

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

While gun buybacks have gained traction in some communities across the nation following the Connecticut elementary school massacre, several local law enforcement agencies say there are no plans for similar events in Kern County.

Ray Pruitt of the Kern County Sheriff's Office and Michaela Beard of the Bakersfield Police Department both said they don't believe their respective agencies have ever held a gun buyback. Beard said people occasionally turn in guns, but it's not a common occurrence.

There is no clearinghouse for data on buyback programs, but cities from Seattle to Tampa are reporting heightened interest and overwhelming response in the wake of the Newtown Sandy Hook school tragedy, according to a USA Today report.

The buybacks are yielding thousands of weapons, including military rocket-propelled grenade devices and illegal automatic machine guns.

But you won't see that happening in Kern.

Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he has no interest in buying back guns.

"What are we accomplishing, really?" Youngblood said. "The guns that are bought back are not guns that are used in criminal offenses."

Gun buybacks don't lower the crime rate or stop shootings, Youngblood said. He said he believes such programs are giving away taxpayer dollars to buy guns that are in the hands of law-abiding people.

"I'm not for gun control, I'm not for taking guns away from lawful citizens," he said.

As an analogy, Youngblood said the sheriff's department isn't about to start buying back cars either, even though cars are used by drunken drivers to kill people. It's not the instrument, it's the way that instrument is used, the sheriff said.

Bakersfield Police Assistant Chief Lyle Martin said the issue of gun buybacks has come up at community meetings. But the department needs to consider several issues regarding buybacks: Do they impact crime? Can the department accept and destroy guns under a "no questions asked" policy? Is there enough money to support a buyback?

Martin said he's seen no empirical data that show buybacks reduce crime. He said the BPD is philosophically against a "no questions asked" policy in turning in guns because there's the possibility that a gun being turned in for destruction was used in a homicide, and by destroying it they'd be destroying evidence that could solve the case.

The money issue is tougher to figure out. Martin said he'd be reluctant to spend taxpayer money on a buyback since there's no evidence they impact crime.

The department would need a sponsor for such a program, and it's difficult to say how much money would be needed because some gun buyback programs result in upwards of 1,000 guns being turned in while others hardly attract anyone.

Bakersfield City Councilwoman Jacquie Sullivan said she feels there should be strong background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. She added, however, that's she's a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.

"I feel that our communities are stronger and safer with residents having protection, and I feel that our country as a whole is stronger and safer with the people that are wanting self-protection," Sullivan said.

The Delano Police Department has held a couple of buybacks in the past, the most recent in 2008 when more than 100 guns were turned in for $100 apiece. Cmdr. Raul Alvizo said he'd like to do another one, but they don't have the funding for it and probably won't anytime soon.

"Basically it's just trying to get guns off the street," Alvizo said.

Some of the weapons turned in previously were passed down from relatives and were unsecured in their homes, he said.

Arvin Police Lt. Olan Armstrong said he's been with the department since 1972, and as far as he knows, they've never done a gun buyback. Whether to do one in the future would be up to the chief.

Taft Police Chief Ed Whiting said his department has "never done one, never will."

Whiting said buybacks ultimately don't make a difference. In California alone there are millions of guns, so if a thousand or so get turned in at a buyback it doesn't have any impact, he said.

"I'm not going to waste the tax dollars," he said.

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