Fairfax, MontCo weigh paying to get guns off streets

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Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Taylor Holland

Local officials in Virginia and Maryland want to get more guns off the street, but they don't have the money to buy them back, so they're hoping residents just turn over their guns voluntarily -- and for free.

The programs in Fairfax and Montgomery counties are getting fresh attention after local officials got calls from residents concerned about lax gun laws and violent crime following last month's mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school.

In response to the residents' concerns, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed to more actively promote Fairfax's gun collection program even though it doesn't offer gun owners anything for turning them over. The board directed county staff to review other free collection efforts around the region that might work in Fairfax.

"Most residents do not realize that Fairfax County provides a voluntary gun turn-in service," County Board Chairman Sharon Bulova said. "The county should make it as easy as possible for residents to voluntarily turn over unwanted weapons."

Capt. Dave Gillespie, director of the Montgomery County Police Department's Special Investigations Division, said the county's free collection program has taken guns off the street, though the number wasn't immediately known. Still, Gillespie said, it may be necessary to starting paying for guns if lawmakers want to increase the number of guns they're collecting.

"The more guns that are turned in and off the street, the less law enforcement has be concerned about," Gillespie said.

In the D.C. region, only Prince George's County pays residents to turn in guns. Police and the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last year offered up to $100 in gift cards for each gun collected during three drives and collected 160 guns.

"There are too many people being killed with guns," said Bob Ross, president of the Prince George's NAACP. "They're out there, but if you just get one, you've saved a life."

Others question whether buyback programs actually reduce gun violence.

Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said buyback programs work for parents who want to rid their homes of guns for safety reasons. But, he said, they won't "stop people who are dangerous from getting guns."

D.C. police started a different kind of buyback program in 2010. Under the "Got Guns?" initiative, callers who provide tips on the location of hidden or illicit guns can get up to $1,000. The number of gun tips has increased, though numbers were not readily available, police spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump said.

Arlington County and Alexandria have considered creating buyback programs, but questioned whether they're necessary at a time when budgets are tight and crime rates are down.

"It's not necessarily a problem right now," Arlington police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said. "We're experiencing historic lows in crime across the board."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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