A gun buyback program held at churches in Newark, Montclair and other communities this past weekend was the largest of its kind ever held in Essex County, netting 1,770 firearms ranging from a one-shooter to high-capacity assault weapons, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa said during a press conference in Newark Tuesday.
“By any measure this buyback was a success and another step forward in our continuing effort to make New Jersey safer by taking deadly weapons out of circulation,” said Chiesa, who was flanked by clergy members, law enforcement and mayors from East Orange, Irvington, Orange, Montclair and Newark.
The buyback program allowed gun owners to turn in up three guns each and to receive as much as $250 per weapon, no questions asked. The Essex buyback is the third to be held in New Jersey in recent months, following buybacks in Camden and Mercer counties. All told, the three buybacks together yielded about 5,400 weapons, with the Essex weapns purchased with $242,000 from the state’s crime forfeiture fund.*
This most recent Essex buyback turned up 1,000 more weapons than were recovered in December 2009, the last time a buyback was held here, said Anthony Ambrose, the chief of detectives of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which helped coordinate the effort.
A conference table at Newark’s emergency services operations center was piled high Tuesday with a diverse cache of firearms, including 70 guns that were illegal to own because they had high-capacity magazines, sawed-off barrels or for other reasons. At least six had been stolen, and one had been used in a Newark shooting, said Samuel DeMaio, the director of the Newark Police Department.
Also among the haul was a “pen gun” and an AR-15 turned in at Union Baptist Church in Montclair, a weapon similar to that used in the Newtown school shootings.
Surprisingly, more than 700 weapons -- nearly half the total -- were turned in at the Montclair church, even though that community is less than one-fifth as populous as Newark and has a far lower violent-crime rate. Participants from outside Montclair may have felt safer handing in weapons there, Chiesa said, although he was unsure exactly why the take in Montclair was so high.
“I can’t explain why we got more than 2,000 weapons in Trenton either,” Chiesa said.
“The reality is we’re all in the same community....the state approach, the comprehensive approach, is the way to go,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Those taking part in the buyback had various motives for giving up their weapons, Chiesa added. Some mentioned the desire to get guns out of their houses following the Newtown shootings.
“One of the things we found in Newark was that they just didn’t want a gun in the home anymore” because of Newtown,DeMaio said.
At least one participant, however, reportedly said he was taking the cash and purchasing a new gun. Still, speakers said Tuesday, the buyback has gone a long way towards making New Jersey streets safer.
“There’s no other way to get 5,400 guns off the streets that I know of,” Chiesa said.
*Correction - The article orginally stated that $242,000 was used to purchase all the weapons.