As statistics show gun violence increasing in the city, a buyback program last Saturday collected 144 handguns in Harlem.
The NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney sponsored the buyback, which allowed residents to exchange operable handguns for a $200 bank card and operable rifles and shotguns for a $20 bank card, no questions asked. It was held at two local churches—one only a few blocks away from Grant Houses, where 18-year-old Tayshana Murphy was gunned down last month.
“There was a steady stream of people that came in,” said Bishop Carlton Brown, senior pastor at Bethel Gospel Assembly on 120th Street between 5th and Madison avenues, one of the participating churches. “Young people, old people, black people, white people brought in their guns and seemed happy to do it.”
Adrian Carmona, president of the NYPD’s 26th Precinct Community Council, said that the buyback “has made the area safer.” Saturday’s event netted more guns than previous buybacks, he said.
“We are very concerned with the level of crime,” Brown said, but added that he was “positive that we can change things.”
According to a statement from Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance, 249 people have been indicted for possessing loaded guns this year, 52 of whom were 18 or younger when they were arrested.
The buyback program, which started in 2008, includes an event roughly once a year in the Harlem area, Carmona said. Throughout the city, more than 7,000 guns have been recovered through the program.
But several studies have shown that buyback programs aren’t necessarily effective. A 2002 study in the journal Injury Prevention determined that handguns recovered from buybacks are “not the types most commonly linked to firearm homicides and suicides” and the “limited resources for firearm injury prevention may be better spent in other ways.”
Carmona said he didn’t buy it.
“Come up here and work around a little,” he said. “This is not academic. 144 guns are not out there and will not hurt anyone.”
Brown said that some of those who turned in guns were “young people in the projects, where we have much of the problems with guns and violence.”
For pastors at the two churches—Bethel Gospel and St. Joseph of the Holy Family Roman Catholic Church, on 125th Street between Amsterdam and Morningside avenues—the buyback was part of a larger effort to help Harlem.
“Even if you get one off the street, I think that’s good,” Father Ransford Clarke of St. Joseph said.
“We need to stand up and say, ‘take it someplace else,’” Brown said. “Most importantly, we have to accept it’s a crisis that’s not going away. It’s not somebody else’s problem. We’ve got to take action, clean up this place.”
The night before the buyback, Bethel Gospel held a candlelight vigil to remember victims and survivors of gun violence.
“We should not feel that just because we do a gun buyback here and there, we can all rest,” Brown said. “No. You have to accompany this action with other actions.”
Bethel, which is housed in a former junior high school building, has taken action by hosting programs for youth that Brown said included “writing résumés,
continuing education, entrepreneurial classes with other groups.”
St. Joseph has similar programs in its basement, including one that helps young people get paid internships.
“Kids who aren’t going to school can have our space,” Clarke said. “We want to give them an avenue.”