Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Gun buybacks mostly symbolic gestures

It has become a staple of the response to a tragic killing: in addition to the impromptu shrines and long meetings discussing the need for better school security, anytime a gun is used in the commission of a murder of a young person, there’s the gun buyback.

I read about one in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, and recalled a tragedy in Manatee County in September 2009, and the response.

Looking through the archives of The Bradenton Times, I found my article about the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office’s buyback held on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009.

People had packed the area in Bradenton where the Sheriff’s Office has its headquarters, once part of a shopping mall, and a few times the operation ran out of money. The sheriff told me he had tapped into his budget even though such gun buybacks are futile but are expected in the wake of a shooting tragedy. (My story from that day is here.)

One person I remember well was a man who was trying without success to hold back his tears as he got ready to turn in four weapons. The man, from north of Lakeland – where I now work for the local paper as a copy editor – had heard about the buyback and had driven a long way to get money for his weapons.

Some folks who have guns aren’t too keen on talking to a reporter, and I can understand why. A couple of people that day politely turned me away, others were happy to talk on the record, but when I heard the 70-year-old talking about how he had bought one of his weapons as a teenager, I had to ask him for permission for an interview. He turned out to be very eager to tell his story. He showed me a rifle, and described buying it at age 16, and paying $2 a week on it. Tears rolled down his face as he got closer to the front of the line, and I felt so bad for the man.

He said he had wanted to give the rifle to his grandson, but the latter had no interest in shooting, so he decided to turn it in for the money. I could see the man was hurting.

I didn’t wonder then, but wonder now if maybe such weapons could be rendered unfireable so that they could be kept and displayed. I mean, this was a piece of such great sentimental value. I am sure there are many other weapons that people would love to keep but are afraid to because they might be stolen or used against them by a burglar.

That was a common theme of what people said to me. They had the weapon, didn’t use it, their grandkids weren’t interested in shooting and they were worried about it falling into the wrong hands. Here was a chance to get rid of a weapon and make a few bucks, and I could not blame them.

Not mentioned in my story was the catalyst for the buyback.

In the aftermath of a football game between two county rivals, a youth who used to attend one of the schools but was at the school for delinquents approached a carload of cheerleaders. He talked to them briefly, then walked away. Soon after, he produced a weapon and fired into the vehicle, killing one of the cheerleaders.

The slaying led to a lot of soul-searching in the community and talk about issues related to school security, though it took place off school property and after school hours. (Some folks love to blame everything on the schools.)

At one meeting, held at a school, there was talk of armed guards and metal detectors, gestures that wouldn’t address the issue at hand.

I was struck by the sincerity of the students regarding their deceased fellow student, and the girl’s family also was very touched. All it can take is one troubled youth with a gun and one parent who’s out of touch to upend so many lives.

As the sheriff said to me, gun buybacks are mostly symbolic and in response to a tragedy, and leave the police with lots of weapons they don’t need. What is needed is simply not within the skills of the police or school officials to provide, but it must be provided. I just wish I knew what it was.


January 2, 2013 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age


  1. Better take a look at this, first the Tarawa and now VMA-513 !!

    Comment by David Graves | February 7, 2013 | Reply

  2. Die in a fire, comment troll.

    Comment by Vincent Safuto | July 14, 2013 | Reply

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