Guns could end up in the hands of local school children. But don’t panic: They won’t cause any harm. In fact, they won’t technically be guns anymore. And they might contribute to your health.
The New Haven Police Department is embarking on the sixth year of its gun buyback program. This year, instead of simply destroying the guns that are purchased without question, the program will dismantle the guns and have inmates from the New Haven Correctional Center transform them into garden tools to be donated to agriculture education programs at Common Ground and the Sound high schools.
The goal: Update the biblical directive to “turn swords into ploughshares.”
Police joined representatives from Yale-New Haven Hospital and The Newtown Foundation Tuesday to announce the twist to the upcoming gun buyback event. It will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the New Haven Police Academy at 710 Sherman Parkway.
As in previous years, people will be able to bring in unloaded firearms and ammunition with no questions asked and no identification required. Depending on the style of gun, the donor can receive a gift card for between $25 and $200 in exchange for the gun.
Officer David Hartman, spokesman for the police department, said that the gun buyback is popular during this time of the year because the gift cards are usually to retailers like Target, Walmart, and Amazon. But this year, the program will partner with renowned New Haven sculptor Gar Waterman, the state Department of Corrections and Colorado Springs-based RAWtools Inc. to turn guns—often the source of so much tragedy in the United States—into something more positive, and hopefully, far less dangerous.
Hartman said the idea is that the guns, which are typically just destroyed and discarded, become tools to help students grow crops that will, in turn, be used by local programs and soup kitchens to feed those in need.
“We’re literally going from a working firearm to a tomato,” he said.
Assistant Chief Ontoniel Reyes said making New Haven streets safe is the police department’s top priority. To that end, more than 120 guns have been taken off city streets this year.
“Most of them are taken off of criminals,” Reyes said. Through the gun buyback, the department is able to take guns off the street that could potentially end up in the wrong hands “in a way that is positive for the community and proactive,” he said.
Over the six years of the buyback program, Hartman estimated that nearly 700 guns have been voluntarily handed over to the police department.
That proactivity is necessary, said Pina Violano, the manager of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Injury Prevention Community Outreach & Research. She said that studies have shown that people often falsely believe that their children don’t know where a personal firearm is stored at in their house.
“They do know,” she said. “And we know that even a 3-year-old has the strength to pull the trigger and hurt themselves or their siblings.”
Gail D’Onofrio, chief of the hospital’s emergency services, said that the biggest part of saving lives has to do with prevention.
“Fewer guns means fewer deaths,” she said.
Some of the work transforming pieces of the guns will take place at the New Haven Correctional Center on Whalley Avenue. Warden Jose Feliciano said that he was taken aback when Assistant Chief Racheal Cain first approached him about bringing “guns” into the center. Once he understood that the guns would be first chopped into pieces, he was on board.
Hartman said that the guns people tend to hand over during gun buybacks are those that belonged to a now deceased family member. He said while the department doesn’t anticipate that it will be receiving guns from criminals during the buyback event, the program is important in preventing legal firearms from ending up in illegal hands for illegal purposes.
“Homes get burglarized,” he said. “New Haven cops, cops all over this country, take reports about stolen guns every day. That’s why it is important for us to take guns from whoever wants to give them to us.”
Steve Yanovsky of The Newtown Foundation said that 33,000 people are killed each year in the United States because of gun violence. With the continued inaction of Congress, he said, efforts such as gun buybacks are important in getting guns off the street.
“Anything we can do to make sure fewer people are shot to death in the city of New Haven is a step in the right direction,” he said.
In addition to buying guns, the police department is also taking donations to support the gun buyback program. Click here to donate.
Click on the video below to learn more about RAWTools Inc.