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Gun buyback initiative a success in Hampshire and Franklin counties; nets 300 weapons

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback held locally in October collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns.

    SARAH GANZHORN
    The gun buyback held locally in October collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns. Purchase photo reprints »

  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback initiative held Saturday by the Northampton and Greenfield police departments collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns, said Northampton Police Captain Joe Koncas.
  • SARAH GANZHORN<br/>The gun buyback held locally in October collected 301 weapons in total, most of which were rifles and shotguns.

“This was a fabulous turnout that far exceeded any of our expectations,” Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan said.

The day before the event, organizers were anxious about how many people would show up to relinquish firearms.

Linda Shippie, who works for Gov. Deval Patrick’s Safe and Successful Youth Initiative, was one of the lead organizers of the buyback program. Shippie said that by 10 a.m., people were waiting in a long line outside of the police station and the line continued throughout the morning.

“At the last meeting we had, I left saying that if we get one weapon out of the community, it will be a job well done,” Shippie said “So this is just overwhelming.”

Shippie knows firsthand about the dangers of weapons in the home, having lost her son, 27-year-old Matthew Michael Heenan, who committed suicide in June 1998.

“My son, my only child, shot himself, so this initiative is very important to me,” Shippie said.

According to Police Capt. Joseph Koncas, around 140 guns were turned in at the Northampton Police Department. Greenfield Police Lt. William Gordon said 160 weapons were turned in there.

“We had a variety of different weapons turned in today. Most were rifles and shotguns,” Koncas said. “We also got two assault rifles and a couple dozen handguns.”

A no-questions-asked policy made sure people didn’t have to worry about not having the proper licenses when getting rid of their unwanted guns. Participants received $50 gift cards for each handgun, rifle and shotgun, and two $50 gift cards for each assault weapon. All firearms had to be in working condition.

“We had conversations with everybody that came in, and everyone just kept thanking us and saying how grateful they were to us for doing this,” Shippie said. “They were glad to get the gift cards, but they said that they were happier to have the opportunity to get rid of the weapons”

Shippie said that one man interrupted his vacation on the Cape, returning to Northampton just so he could turn in his firearm. Another individual who has a home in Northampton traveled up from New Jersey to get rid of his gun.

One person brought a pre-assault-weapon-ban AR-15 assault rifle to the Greenfield station, and walked away with a $100 card.

Gordon said he was surprised to see the weapon turned in. The pre-ban gun is capable of accepting magazines that hold 30 or more bullets, and can fetch as high as $3,000 in a legitimate sale, Gordon said.

While most of the guns will be ground up for recycling, one rare firearm will be sent to the Springfield Armory Museum, when it reopens after the federal government shutdown.

“A lot of the officers were drooling over this one,” Gordon said, pulling a pearl-handled 1902 Colt Browning pistol from its pouch.

Organizers said most of the firearms that were brought in had either been inherited from family members, forgotten in a closet, or turned in by former hunters who no longer needed them.

Ida Konderwicz, the pediatric trauma coordinator and adult and pediatric injury prevention coordinator at Baystate Medical Center, participated in the initiative to raise awareness about gun violence and responsible gun ownership.

“This is about safety. We are not saying that nobody should own a gun. We actually gave out over 60 trigger locks today,” Konderwicz said. “What we are saying is that it is important to keep guns unloaded and safely stored and please, please out of the hands of children.”

When factors like depression, rage and mental illness are coupled with easy access to a gun, it can greatly increase the probability of a deadly outcome.

“My son was successful, an all-American soccer player, and he exhibited no signs of depression,” Shippie said. “But at a critical period in his life, he happened to have a weapon available to him. Had the gun not been there, he may have been able to get help and been given a second chance at life.”

Organizers said that statistically, there are more suicides by gun than there are deaths by street violence across the country, with suicides accounting for 67 percent of deaths by firearms in the U.S.

When the event came to a close, police officers wheeled away several large containers full of firearms.

“The first thing we will do is run all of the serial numbers to see if any of the weapons were stolen,” Koncas said, adding that stolen weapons would be returned to their legal owners. “Then the DA will check with the Springfield Armory to see if they might want any of the weapons. What they don’t want will be destroyed.”

Sullivan said the event was made possible by a variety of organizations working together with the district attorney’s office, including the Hampshire and Franklin Deputy Sheriffs Associations, Northwestern Anti-Crime Task Force, Baystate Medical Center, Northampton Area Pediatrics, Clinical and Support Options, Edwards Church of Northampton, the Haydenville Congregational Church, ServiceNet and the Massachusetts State Police, among other organizations.

“This was a very successful day. It is all about saving a life,” Sullivan said. “We will continue to listen to the community and see what they have to say. If we feel there is a need, we will definitely do this again.”

Gazette contributing writer David Rainville provided material for this report.

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