Giving up the guns

City completes Operation Lifesaver II gun buyback; residents applaud

On Saturday the city completed the second of a two-day gun buyback program designed to get illegal firearms off the streets in an effort to reduce violence. On the first day of the buyback, held on July 16, more than five dozen guns were turned in for cash, including a machine gun known as a “street sweeper.”
“We tried to keep this program focused on removing street weapons,” said Jersey City Police Chief Tom Comey, who said that he – not Mayor Jerramiah Healy – selected the dates of the buyback. The program, he added, was not timed to coincide with three recent homicides that took place withing a 24-hour period.

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‘When will all these killings stop? We own the answer to that question.’ – Rahim Stokes
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The total number of firearms relinquished on July 23 was not available by the Reporter’s Friday deadline.
Residents interviewed last week applauded the city’s efforts, but agreed that communities need to do more to help curb gun-related crimes.

Young and old alike

On each Saturday the program was held residents were able to turn in their guns for money – no questions asked – at three separate locations in the city.
Residents who turned in rifles and shotguns received $100, while those who turned in handguns and automatic weapons received $150.
Approximately 30 handguns, rifles, and other firearms had been turned in as of 3 p.m. at the Mary McLeod Bethune Community Life Center, one of the designated buyback sites, on July 16.
“It’s not all senior citizens turning in guns. We’ve had quite a number of younger people come in here, too,” Jersey City Police Det. Rhudell Snelling said that afternoon.
Snelling staffed the Bethune Center buyback with Police Officers Dejon Morris and Corey J. Parson.
The buyback process was quick and in most cases was over in a couple minutes.
Residents brought in their weapons – sometimes in plastic shopping bags, sometimes in locked metal boxes – and gave them to Snelling. The detective would then take the weapon over to a sand-filled plastic trash can to check the gun for ammunition. If any bullets were still in the gun Snelling would remove them before placing the gun in a plastic bag that was then sealed with a sheet of paper that contained some basic information about the weapon.
Based on the type of firearm that was turned in, Officer Morris would pay the resident $100 or $150 in cash, the person was thanked, and was then free to leave. Since the initiative, known as Operation Lifesaver II, was a gun amnesty program, the officers did not ask residents for their names.
“We want the process to be quick,” said Snelling. “If it takes too long, people start getting nervous. They think you’re calling the police station to run some kind of a check.”
Three guns were turned in when the Reporter visited the Bethune Center.
In addition to the Bethune Center, on July 16 residents were also able to turn in firearms for money at St. Nicholas Church and Evangelismos Greek Orthodox Church Community Center. On July 23 firearms were turned in at St. Joseph’s Church, Monumental Baptist Church, and Heavenly Temple Church.
In all, 65 firearms were turned in on July 16, the first day of the buyback.
The weapons that were turned in are now sitting in a police evidence room. A city spokesperson said two weeks ago that the department would decide what to do with the guns after the second weekend of Operation Lifesaver II was completed. In other cities that have done buybacks in the past, the weapons were destroyed.

Residents express support

Residents who were interviewed last week expressed unanimous support for the buyback program.
“I think it’s a good idea. I know there are certain parts of Jersey City that have a lot of problems with violence and guns and I think if this gets guns off the street, it’s excellent,” said Kenny McMillan. He added that he had lived in other cities where gun violence was much worse than it is locally, but “it’s become a big problem here, too.”
The Jersey City native said he has seen gun-related violence worsen in his lifetime.
“I think that any way that you can get guns off the street it’s a good way to reduce gun violence,” said Hunter Schoenfeld, who lives in Jersey City and works at a charter school in the South Bronx, a New York City borough that has held its own gun buyback. “Any way we can get guns off the street, it’s positive. Sometimes in areas where guns are prevalent, it becomes hard to get them off the street unless there’s a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ amnesty program attached to it.”
Schoenfeld said he has met many young people who’ve seen their friends and peers shot, and sometimes killed.
Jersey City native Rahim Stokes said he has gone from worrying about his own safety on the streets to worrying about the safety of his own children.
“It’s a good idea. It’s a good concept. But there are still guns arriving back on the streets… The value of human life isn’t getting across to young people. They don’t understand what it means to take somebody’s life. The city really needs to dig deep to find the answer to [how to end gun violence]. When will all these killings stop? That’s the million-dollar question. We own the answer to that question.”
Another resident agreed.
“I think it’s a good thing. But guns really aren’t the [problem]. It’s the people. What do they say? Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,” said a resident who only wanted to give her first name, A’Isha. “I did a study on Canada. In Canada everybody has guns in their house. But you don’t see a lot of killing there…We need better leadership and more community to stop this killing.”
Operation Lifesaver II, the city’s second gun buyback in six years, was co-sponsored by the Jersey City Police Department and the Interfaith Ministerial Alliance. The city’s first gun buyback, held in 2005 and dubbed Operation Lifesaver, took 897 guns off the city’s streets.
The city raised over $80,000 from the local business and corporate community to fund Operation Lifesaver II, a Healy spokesperson said last week.
E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.