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Gun buyback program gains traction

Updated 8:44 pm, Friday, December 28, 2012

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  • Chris Fumal, of New Milford, takes the lock off of his Intratec TEC-22 semi-automatic handgun as he turns it in during a gun buyback event at the Bridgeport Police Department's Community Services Division Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 in Bridgeport, Conn. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the city raised $100,000 for the program and will offer up to $200 value for a working handgun, $75 for rifles and higher amounts for assault-type rifles.  The buy back will continue every Saturday until the city gives out all of the funds which includes an additional $10,000 in gift cards from the Food Bazaar grocery store. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post

    Chris Fumal, of New Milford, takes the lock off of his Intratec TEC-22 semi-automatic handgun as he turns it in during a gun buyback event at the Bridgeport Police Department's Community Services Division Friday, Dec. 28, 2012 in Bridgeport, Conn. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the city raised $100,000 for the program and will offer up to $200 value for a working handgun, $75 for rifles and higher amounts for assault-type rifles. The buy back will continue every Saturday until the city gives out all of the funds which includes an additional $10,000 in gift cards from the Food Bazaar grocery store.

    Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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Chris Fumal, a 43-year-old veteran, removed his black Scorpion semi-automatic pistol from the hard case, detached the lock and placed the firearm on a table before a Bridgeport police officer.

The New Milford resident finally decided to surrender the illegal assault weapon to police on Friday -- the two-week anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings -- as part of Bridgeport's gun buyback program.

"It's not really worth getting in any trouble over," Fumal said. "And they're offering a good deal."

From Bridgeport to Los Angeles, gun buyback programs are gaining traction with politicians and gun owners -- even if they don't forfeit all their firearms -- in the weeks since 20 children and six educators were shot to death in Newtown.

Forty members of Congress, led by Democrats Gerry Connolly, of Virginia, and Ted Deutch, of Florida, have sent a letter to Senate and House leaders seeking $200 million for a gun buyback effort as part of any fiscal cliff deal. They estimated the money would get as many as a million guns off the streets.

Locally, Bridgeport officers on Friday recovered 108 guns, including about 10 assault weapons, on top of the 104 guns they took in last weekend, according to Officer Nick Ortiz. In all, they've paid out $22,775 in exchange for the guns.

The buyback continues today and will take place every Saturday in January as long as funding is available. The city is accepting donations to extend the program.

Gun buyback programs have been politically popular in urban areas, but a 2004 study by the National Academies' National Research Council found that the programs aren't effective in reducing gun violence.

Don't tell that to Bridgeport Police Chief Joseph Gaudett.

"I can't understand how it can't be effective," said Gaudett, who lives in Newtown, the site of the Sandy Hook massacre. "Every gun we're taking in is a gun that could be used in a crime in the future."

The federal report, "Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review," noted that the surrendered guns often are old or broken, and people easily can buy new ones.

Fumal, who forfeited an Intratec Tech-22 Scorpion on Friday, was one of several gun owners who said they still had other firearms at home. Fumal said he owns five semi-automatic handguns and a couple of shotguns that he uses for target practice. "It's fun. I was in the military," he said.

Fumal recalled that he didn't need a permit when he bought the Scorpion in Alaska some 20 years ago. Today, he said, he thinks everyone who buys or carries a gun should undergo a mental evaluation.

Sitting inside the Bridgeport police office Friday afternoon, Fumal haggled briefly with Officer Pete Garcia, who examined each gun's quality, often using a flashlight to read the serial numbers.

"How much you want?" Garcia asked.

"Maybe $250," Fumal offered.

"Too much," Garcia said.

"Even though it's on the (banned) list?" Fumal tried.

"I'll give you $200," the officer countered.

"OK," agreed Fumal, who said he planned to spend the money to pay bills.

Ed Miklos, waiting to exchange his Ruger P85, 9mm handgun, praised the buyback program for taking in guns that could be stolen. But said he plans to keep his revolver and pistol at home. He keeps one loaded and unlocked, within walking distance of his bed.

"You never know what's going to happen in this world -- anarchy, terrorism," said Miklos, 45, of Stratford. "I want to have some type of protection."

Among the other Connecticut cities with buyback programs are Hartford and New Haven. Pina Violano, injury prevention coordinator at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said she started the buyback program there two years ago after seeing too many children with gunshot wounds.

Last week, she said, they recovered a Bushmaster rifle, like the one Adam Lanza used in the Sandy Hook murders. In all, her program has yielded 182 guns.

"To me, if you get one gun it's a success," Violano said. Since the Newtown tragedy, she added, she has heard from people in Michigan and South Carolina interested in starting similar buyback programs.

Friday, Tom and Barbara Joray, retired antique dealers from Litchfield, drove about an hour into Bridgeport just to give their pistol to police. They bought it years ago after Tom Joray was robbed.

"You feel bad," Barbara, 65, said. "You don't want anyone to get a hold of it."

"This is so frightening -- the Newtown thing," added Tom, 70.

"And we have grandkids," Barbara continued.

ericka.mellon@chron.com