Dunkirk mulls gun buyback program

A gun buyback program or voluntary surrender program could come to the city of Dunkirk and possibly the surrounding area.

Dunkirk Police Chief David Ortolano was asked about implementing a gun buyback program in the city by Fourth Ward Councilperson Stacy Szukala at a Public Safety Committee meeting Tuesday morning.

“I’m very supportive of this, but I want to know the negatives, too,” she told committee members.

Szukala said she read about the program implemented in Buffalo about seven years ago. She said the city of Buffalo offers a gift card incentive for surrender of guns in denominations of $10 for broken guns, $50 for a rifle or shotgun, $55 for hand guns and up to $100 for high power automatic weapons in a “no questions asked” collection program.

She said churches are used as dropoff locations because guns are not allowed in government buildings. Officers are present to identify the guns and operating condition before collecting them.

Szukala said cards from stores such as Walmart are on location and are “charged” for the amount corresponding to the gun type.

Ortolano and City Attorney Ron Szot both said about 66 percent of weapons turned in were broken or long guns, according to data they had seen, so both were unsure how effective the program is at reducing crime. However, Ortolano said there may be guns currently owned by “senior citizens who might want them out so their grandkids don’t get hold of them,” which may deter accidental shootings of children.

Szukala said she was concerned such guns could be used to commit crimes.

“You could have someone’s grandkid steal the gun to go rob a convenience store,” she said.

Szot said he believed the program in Buffalo, which he said costs about $40-50,000, is funded by money from property forfeitures related to drug charges. While a smaller-scale program in the Dunkirk area would not cost as much to administer, Dunkirk would not have such a way to fund the program. He also said Buffalo’s program may have begun with a cash donation from an outside organization.

Ortolano said he was concerned about liability issues which might arise, and the guns collected would have to be destroyed in accordance with state laws. He said his department has two officers authorized to carry out disposals when guns are seized in crimes.

“We have a program by law to dispose of them,” he explained, but anticipated an increase in hours and associated costs if large amounts of guns were being collected.

Szot asked if there is an appropriate cost benefit from such a program.

“Is that money better spent on more detective work or some other program?”

He also said he did not wish to see an increase in thefts of guns due to a monetary incentive to surrender weapons.

Discussion followed about a volunteer program without a financial incentive. Councilperson William J. Rivera said he believed there are people in the area who may have guns in their homes they want to get rid of because they are not comfortable handling them. Councilperson Adelino Gonzalez agreed and said through his church, he knows people who have inherited guns they are afraid to touch.

“Sometimes, the husband dies, and the wife is left with a gun she doesn’t know what to do with,” he explained.

Szot suggested collaborating with other municipalities such as the town of Dunkirk, village of Fredonia and town of Pomfret which he said could “increase the anonymity” thereby increasing incentive to surrender the weapons.

Ortolano said he would contact village of Fredonia Police Chief Bradley Meyers to see if he would like the village to be involved with such a program.

Councilperson-at-large Stephanie Kiyak asked about the possibility of guns being surrendered which have been used in crimes.

“In Buffalo, they know some of the guns they’ve collected have been used in crimes,” Szukala replied, repeating it’s a “no questions asked” program.

However, it was agreed with Szukala the program is “worth looking into” locally and will be followed up with more information at the next meeting.

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