Don Rupar had a shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle when he went into the Truman Street substation of the New London Police Department on Saturday. When he left, he had $150 and plans to put the money toward a late season ski trip.
“My wife says, ‘They’ve been sitting in the cellar forever. You haven’t shot them for 40 years,’” said Rupar.
Rupar agreed that it was unlikely that he would use the firearms again, so he brought them to the first day of the New London gun buyback. This program continues today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and at the same time on March 9 and 10.
Residents who turn in weapons are given prepaid Mastercard gift cards, with $75 payments for rifles or shotguns, $100 for handguns, and $150 for assault rifles. The program is being funded by private donations, and $11,000 had been raised as of Friday. Acting Chief Peter Reichard said $7,175 in gift cards were distributed on Saturday.
Reichard said 47 people turned in a total of 88 firearms: 40 handguns, 38 long guns, and one assault weapon. Most residents were giving up rifles and shotguns, and many of those taking part were senior citizens. Reichard said the department will give gift cards for up to three guns, but that some residents turned in four or more despite the lack of reimbursement for the extra firearms. Nine long guns were turned in for destruction without compensation.
Acting Chief Peter Reichard estimated that about 35 to 40 people had turned in weapons as of Saturday afternoon. Most residents were giving up rifles and shotguns, and many of those taking part were senior citizens. Reichard said the department will give gift cards for up to three guns, but that some residents turned in four or more despite the lack of reimbursement for the extra firearms.
“I talked to a couple of people and they basically wanted to get them out of the house,” said Reichard.
Gun buyback programs started up across the country after the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown. In that incident, a gunman killed his mother with one her firearms before murdering 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School and committing suicide. A Hartford gun buyback program had been active for four years prior to this shooting, and similar programs took place in Bridgeport and New Haven after it occurred.
Donors to the New London program include the New London County Clergy Association and New London County Bar Association. In announcing the program in January, Mayor Daryl Finizio said New London’s gun violence rates exceed the national averages and that the program could reduce the number of weapons in the city that could be used in a crime.
Reichard said that although the weapons that have been turned in are not the type that are usually used in street crimes, the collection of the firearms ensures that they won’t be stolen. The department has made its first appointment with the Connecticut State Police to destroy the weapons that have been turned over on Wednesday.
Like Rupar, some residents were capitalizing on the opportunity to safely dispose of weapons they were no longer using. Steve Brenek received $75 for a .22-caliber rifle.
“It was an obsolete firearm and I didn’t know how to get rid of it otherwise,” said Brenek. “I didn’t want to just throw it in the garbage.”
Only one assault weapon—an AK-47—had been turned in as of Saturday afternoon.
“He said he brought it 20 years ago, just before that ban went into effect, and he’s hardly used it since,” said Reichard.
Residents wishing to turn in a firearm should make sure the weapon is not loaded and keep it wrapped in clear plastic in the trunk of his or her vehicle until an officer determines that it is safe. Police will take the firearm and award any gift cards after the resident fills out forms on the weapon and other information.
Ammunition may be turned in separately at the New London Police Department Headquarters. Residents may also contact the department to request an officer to take a firearm from their home if they are unable to make it to the substation or are uncomfortable handling the weapon.
The gun buyback is not considered a general amnesty program. Officers are checking serial numbers of weapons that are turned in to determine if they have been used in any major crimes. However, residents will not be charged with minor offenses such as possession of a firearm without a permit.