Using Cash to Get Guns Off the Streets

In New Orleans, a buyback program entices locals to hand over weapons -- with no questions asked.

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Julie Dermansky

In 2009, seven-year-old Paige DeJean was killed in her bed by a stray bullet from a shoot-out in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Soon after her death, the Greater New Orleans and Jefferson Parish Buyback Committee instituted a program in her honor, with funding provided by municipal governments and private donations. This past Sunday, at events cosponsored by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Department, citizens were invited to turn in guns at one of two two locations -- the Second Zion Baptist Church in Marreo on New Orleans's west bank or the Marine Baptist Church on the east bank. Participants were given $50 for handguns, rifles, and shotguns, and $200 for semi-automatic weapons, with no questions asked.

Throughout the day, more than 400 guns were collected -- everything from a World War II pistol to a sawed-off shotgun. Although the weapons were taken away to be tested, participants were assured that their identities would be kept anonymous, even if a gun's ballistics were found to match up with a crime. Guns with no criminal history are slated to be destroyed. 

I asked people who were turning in their guns why they'd decided to part with them. Some said they were doing it for their children's safety. Others had more pragmatic reasons. "One was my mama's, and she's dead now," a participant told me. "One was my husband's, and he is also dead. One was mine, and it's time for me to get an upgrade."  

During a weekend full of gun-related crime in the New Orleans area, the buyback program was timely. But will it put a dent in the city's gun-related crime rate? Critics say the program is doing no good, but Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand disagrees. "If we are able to save one life by participating in this program, we have had a successful year," he said.

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University's Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

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