Santa Fe police bought more than 200 guns from people who withstood sub-freezing weather in a long line last weekend. City leaders hailed the first of several planned gun buyback days as a success.
Here's how the program works: Gun owners voluntarily turn in their guns and get paid up to $300 per weapon, no questions asked. Police Chief Ray Rael said as a result of the day's haul, three highly lethal assault weapons were taken in and another was a stolen assault rifle. Others included relics and high-capacity handguns.
Debbie Thompson from the east mountains of Albuquerque sold a handgun and says she feels good about it: “I think it’s a good program; I believe in it because it’s getting guns off the streets that don’t need to be on the streets and at the same time they're going to be destroyed in a proper manner. You know, going to the pawn shops, you take the risk of not knowing who the guns are going to be sold to.”
But just outside police headquarters several Albuquerque residents who say they are collectors were intercepting some weapons before the owners made it inside - a practice that is legal in New Mexico. Jesse, who preferred not to give his last name, accosted a potential buy-back gun seller: “I’ll pay you $350 right now….show me the cash…okay...”
I asked Jesse,“So you bought about 18 weapons today, do you feel good?” “Yeah," he replied, "we didn’t know what we were gonna get up here, if the police were gonna give us a hard time, but they let us stand here on the public easement and they haven’t given us any problems.” He said they had no plans to sell any of the arsenal they collected on this day, and that they wanted to save them from destruction.
In response, Mayor David Coss, who initiated the buy-back program and who owns guns himself, said selling guns on the street just adds to potential gun violence. “You know they’re out there buying guns and who knows who they’re gonna sell them to. They say they’re not gonna sell them but you don’t know. Anybody who brings their gun in here, you know what’s gonna happen to them.”
Police Chief Rael was pleased with the turnout, but he adds that the best way to reduce gun violence is to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental health issues. He says that even though there’s a national database aimed at preventing that, it needs strengthening: “It’s sorely lacking. While the law requires that people who are mentally ill be reported to the system, there’s no teeth in it, there’s no enforcement, there’s really no mechanism to get that information out there.”
Still, Chief Rael agrees with people like this gun owner who wished to remain anonymous, that gun buyback programs like this one are symbolic. “The problem is not going to stop because of this, but at least we’re showing some concern and trying to do something about it.”
Santa Fe plans two more gun buyback days in the coming weeks.