By David Cruz
It is an impressive sight. Hundreds of guns — 22s to sub-machine guns — off the streets. In gun buyback after gun buyback, officials say thousands of weapons have been taken out of circulation and theoretically out of the hands of criminals. The results, safer streets — theoretically.
Just last week the façade of a Jersey City Islamic Center me was riddled with bullets in a random shooting. There’s still a cop stationed right outside. That shooting took place just two days after a gun buyback took 500 guns off the streets. Just this past weekend, police report a shooting less than a block away.
That raises the question, how effective are these gun buybacks when the gun violence on the streets show no signs of letting up, and in places like Jersey City and Newark, gun violence is again on the upswing? Acting Attorney General John Hoffman acknowledged recently that gun buybacks alone should not be expected to stop gun violence.
“This is just one avenue that we’re going down in trying to deal with what is a tremendously complex problem,” he said. “We’re putting prosecutorial resources in what are hot spots; we’re continuing to work this program — identifying other areas that we’re going to want to move to. It’s a very complex problem, it requires a lot of resources and a lot of direction — this being just one of them.”
But Tanael Benthall, who witnessed last week’s shooting near her apartment, is unimpressed.
“By buying them back, they’re still going to buy another one because the same thing keeps happening,” she said. “They buy guns back; y’all give them money for it, and they’re going to buy another one, so what’s the whole point of buying the gun back?”
Assemblyman Charles Mainor chairs the Public Safety Committee. He says he wants to close loopholes that allow individuals to buy guns too easily.
“There are some that turn these guns in, and what they do is, they upgrade to another gun — you have to keep that in mind — and there are others who will turn these guns in because they obtained them illegally to begin with,” he said.
Since January, the state attorney general’s office has sponsored gun buybacks in towns ranging from Newark and Camden, to Hoboken and Summit, doling out more than $1 million in criminal forfeiture money to acquire more than 10,000 weapons. Yet in the state’s largest cities, gun violence continues unabated — a shooting in Hackensack this morning, a backyard barbecue shot up in Newark, a gang-related shooting in Trenton over the weekend.
“They know where to go to get the guns,” says Newark resident Robert Fountaine. “If they can’t get it in Jersey City, they go to New York; if they can’t get it in New York, they’ll go to Hoboken. They know to travel and they’ll get it.”
Officials say the buybacks are as much about raising awareness as they are about getting guns off the street.
“A lot of individuals who have an affiliation to gang members, be they siblings or wives or partners coming in and saying, look the person who put this gun in my house doesn’t know I’m bringing it in but I want this out of here,” adds the attorney general.
New Jersey already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. Still, there are a slew of gun control bills recently passed in Trenton awaiting Gov. Chris Christie’s signature. This weekend, police in Jersey City recovered a loaded rifle and a loaded semi-automatic pistol, stashed in the hedges, near a residential area. Their owners, unknown. The attorney general’s office says the gun buyback program will continue.