Surrendered guns turned into gardening tools in latest New Haven gun buy-back
PUBLISHED DECEMBER 12, 2017
NEW HAVEN — The city is putting a new twist on the police department’s annual gun buy-back event by transforming the relinquished weapons into gardening tools.
The New Haven Police Department and the Newtown Foundation will host a sponsored gun buy-back event from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the New Haven Police Academy, 710 Sherman Parkway, where residents can anonymously drop off guns, without fear of being charged with illegal possession of that specific firearm, and receive a gift card.
Officer David Hartman, spokesman for the New Haven Police Department, said gun buy-backs typically have been just two steps. Instead of the abbreviated exchange of “thanks for the gun — here’s a gift card,” the department and its supporters are taking the event “many steps further,” beyond the simple collection and destruction of firearms.
This year, the collected firearms will be given to Gar Waterman, a local metal sculptor, who is going to chop down the firearms and render them destroyed. The destroyed pieces then will be turned over to the Department of Correction where volunteer inmates will forge the pieces into gardening tools, under the tutelage of Raw Tools, a Colorado-based nonprofit that turns donated weapons into garden tools, according to Hartman.
When Jose Feliciano, warden of the New Haven Correctional Center, first got the call about bringing guns in and giving them to inmates, he was skeptical. However, once he then read up on Raw Tools and saw what they do, he realized he had an opportunity to take the guns and make them into something positive.
“It allows us to take this method of destruction, this murder machine, and turn it into something which is the polar opposite, something that is productive instead of destructive,” Steven Yanovsky, communications director for the Newtown Foundation, said. “The productivity will allow us to take this gardening tool, use it in a garden, plant vegetables. So you’re taking a weapon of death and turning it into the complete opposite, which is life. So you go from a rifle or a handgun to carrots.”
Thursday is the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown.
Upon learning about Raw Tools, which was founded in wake of Sandy Hook, and what it does, Yanovsky wondered how he could take this program and make this a reality in Connecticut. He realized the most effective way to make this happen was by partnering with a police department, as these “are the people dealing with this problem today and tomorrow.”
“We live in this country where gun violence is a growing epidemic, with 33,000 people a year getting shot to death, every year,” he said. “In talking to New Haven, our intent is to make this happen in police departments throughout the state. Every city in Connecticut should be running a program like this.”
Hartman said over the past five years, these events have collected and subsequently destroyed between 600 to 700 firearms. He noted that more firearms aren’t necessarily donated if the department holds more events, explaining that people usually want gift cards ahead of the holidays. The amount of the gift card will depend on the type of firearm turned in — $25 for single and double-shot handguns, $50 for rifles and shotguns, $100 for pistols and revolvers, and $200 for assault weapons, according to a press release.
He stressed that questions won’t be asked and identification will not be required upon people handing over the firearms. Police reminded residents in the press release that the guns must be delivered unloaded in clear plastic bags, with any ammunition delivered in a separate bags.
“Even if that gun itself is not in the hands of a criminal, it doesn’t make it much less likely that that gun could end up in the hands of a criminal,” Hartman said. “So it’s really important that we take guns from whoever wants to give it to us.”
Dr. Gail D’Onofrio, chief of emergency services at Yale New Haven Hospital, said emergency staff and physicians’ whole purpose in life is to save lives. While most people think doctors only save lives when a gunshot victims comes rolling through the front doors, she said those in the emergency department save lives everyday.
“We are the front door of the hospital as well as the front door of the community, and we reflect everything that goes on in the community. Therefore, most of our jobs to really save lives has to do with prevention [and] how to get fewer guns in the hands of people,” D’Onofrio said, reiterating the simple math that fewer guns means fewer deaths.
Dr. Pina Violano, manager of the Injury Free Coalition for Kids of New Haven, added events like these start a dialogue of helping to educate people about gun safety. As a mother of four, she said it’s important to talk about prevention so these guns can be taken off the street and from homes before they get into hands of someone who can use them, intentionally or not, explaining that a 3-year-old is actually capable of pulling a trigger.
“Anything we can do to reduce the number of people shot to death in the city of New Haven is a step in the right direction,” Yanovsky said. “Yes, this is a baby step, but this where it starts, and hopefully, it will spread throughout the country.