First-ever buyback in Guilderland brought in 117 guns — till funds ran out

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

An officer in the county sheriff’s Criminal Interdiction Unit checks a gun for its serial number while another officer checked to see if guns were clear of ammunition.

GUILDERLAND — Suburbanites, it turns out, are eager to unload guns.

At Albany County’s inaugural gun buyback program on Saturday, so many guns were handed over — 117 — that the Westmere firehouse venue shut down hours ahead of schedule.

“It was far, far beyond expectations,” said Dustin Reidy, the county legislator who spearheaded formation of the new DISCOVER program; that stands for Detailed Instruction Supporting COmmunity Violence Education and Reduction.

Reidy had thought four or five people might come in.

Instead, 63 handguns and 54 long guns were collected. The firearms were handed in anonymously — no names required, no questions asked — and some of them were deemed illegal.

The Guilderland event was supposed to run from noon to 4 p.m. but was shut down early because all of the funds were expended.

The sheriff’s office handed out $14,000: $50 for an inoperable firearm, $100 for a rifle or long gun, and $200 for a pistol or handgun.

“The sheriff brought $10,000 in these prepaid cash cards — and he went out to get $4,000 more in compensation …,” Reidy told The Enterprise on Monday. “The idea that we would go through $14,000 and have to close the event by 1:30, I don’t think anyone was expecting that kind of response.”

The original $10,000, Reidy said, is money the sheriff’s office had from drug seizures. The legislature will discuss covering the additional $4,000, he said.

 

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
Dustin Reidy, an Albany County legislator representing part of Guilderland, spearheaded the county’s DISCOVER legislation. That stands for Detailed Instruction Supporting COmmunity Violence Education and Reduction.

 

Sheriff Craig Apple wanted to have the county’s first buyback be held outside of the city of Albany, where other buybacks have been held, sometimes by churches, said Reidy. He believes this was the first ever buyback to be held in Guilderland.

“Most of those guns that are used to perpetrate violence in the city of Albany, they’re not coming … from the city. A lot of those guns are coming from outside the city, outside the county,” said Reidy. “But some of them come from Albany County, and end up in the city of Albany.

“So, you know, it’s a problem that affects all of us,” he went on. “And that’s why there is a big drive here to design a program that was out of the entire county.”

Of the guns collected in Guilderland on Saturday, Reidy said that four or five had scratched-off serial numbers and a handful were illegal.

“There was a sawed-off shotgun that was brought in …,” Reidy said. “If you wore like a big trench coat or like a big winter coat, you could hide this sawed-off shotgun.”

He went on, “At the very end, someone brought in an old semi-automatic rifle, which isn’t illegal to possess. But that’s one of the guns in the recent legislation you need a license to possess … The sheriff’s staff said, this is basically one step away from being an AR-15. One sheriff’s officer said, if you watch The A-Team, it’s the rifle they’re shooting in the opener,” he said of a television show about ex-special forces soldiers.

Some people brought in old Winchester rifles for which they probably could have gotten more money at a gun show or from a gun dealer, Reidy said. “They were just happy to know … they’re going to be destroyed and disposed of safely by the sheriff’s department.”

The sheriff’s office, he said, will see that the guns are crushed or melted.

Reidy said the sheriff’s staff recorded all the gun serial numbers and, if it turns out a gun had been stolen, that gun would be returned to its original owner.

Some people had inherited guns that were “just sitting in the basement,” sometimes for decades; they had no use for them and didn’t know what to do with them, Reidy said.

“It might be a small chance that something like that ever gets involved in either gunfire accidents or ends up being used in gun violence,” said Reidy, but people were “incredibly grateful” to have the guns out of their homes.

On Saturday, after the money was gone, people waiting at the firehouse with their guns turned them over without any monetary compensation, Reidy said.

“It was a real good feeling all around that afternoon,” he said.

The success of the buyback shows the need to hold similar events throughout the county, Reidy said, although none have yet been scheduled.

“There definitely, definitely will be more,” said Riedy, adding that when and where will be discussed with the sheriff and with other legislators.

 

DISCOVER

Over the summer, as Reidy learned about the mass shootings in Buffalo at a supermarket and in Uvalde, Texas at an elementary school, he said he started to look into what Albany County might do to prevent gun violence.

“There was a March For Our Lives in Albany,” said Reidy. He was moved by a Guilderland High School student, Conor Webb, who spoke at the June 11, 2022 event.

Webb had first addressed the Guilderland School Board on Feb. 15, 2022, calling for the board to pass a resolution requiring education of parents on the secure storage of firearms.

“We are scared … We are demanding more because we deserve more,” said Webb, the president of the Guilderland chapter of March For Our Lives.

The school board passed such a resolution on June 14, 2022.

“When you hear these students being very frank and talking about how the thought of gun [violence] passes their thoughts like at least once a day when they’re in school, and when you look at gun violence being the number-one killer of teenagers and children in the country,” Reidy said this week, “I just felt there was a need to show students like Conor and show people here in the county that, you know, we would turn over every stone we can to effect change.”

Last June, Reidy proposed a county bill that would require gun dealers to display warning signs noting the increased risk of violence associated with firearms and also providing contact information for the Albany County Mobile Crisis Team and the National Suicide Hotline.

Suicides have long accounted for the majority of U.S. gun deaths, according to the Pew Research Center.

 In 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, 54 percent of all gun-related deaths in the Uunited States were suicides (24,292), while 43 percent were murders (19,384), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The remaining gun deaths in 2020 were unintentional (535), involved law enforcement (611) or had undetermined circumstances (400).

Nearly eight in ten (79 percent) of the murders nationwide in 2020 — 19,384 out of 24,576 — involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records.

Also in 2020, a little over half (53 percent) of all suicides — 24,292 out of 45,979 — involved a gun, a percentage that has generally remained stable in recent years.

The Albany County Commitment to Ensuring a Safe Society, or ACCESS, law requires a written copy of the warning to be given when a gun is purchased and when anyone obtains a firearms license.

Failure to display the warning label may result in imprisonment of not more than 15 days, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

“So I wrote that just as a way to raise awareness,” said Reidy of the law to require warning signs at gun dealerships in the county and to provide mental-health emergency help. “And we passed a law to ban guns and other weapons from county buildings, which is something that, you know, most people think is illegal but was not something in our actual laws.

“So I was just trying to work to find anything we can do here,” said Reidy.

In the course of searching for solutions, Reidy said talked to constituents and other legislators as well as activists — “and this idea for DISCOVER kind of started to bubble up.”

Reidy, a Democrat who chairs the Guilderland Democratic committee, noted that the Republicans in the county legislature, a minority, had voted against the ACCESS law.

“But, after that vote, they said, ‘Hey, you know, it is the illegal guns that are the problem here. Why aren’t we looking at that?’”

And that helped lead Reidy to draft the DISCOVER legislation, which the county legislature passed unanimously in November.

“It was not only passed unanimously, but every member of the legislature signed on as a co-sponsor,” said Reidy, noting that is the first time that has happened on any piece of legislation during this, his first term as a legislator.

“This had universal bipartisan sponsorship as well as a unanimous vote,” Reidy said of DISCOVER.

While it is up to the federal government, Reidy said, to institute something like a ban on assault weapons, county government can still make a difference.

The legislature, he said, set aside a little over $40,000 for the program, which has several components besides gun buybacks.

This week or next, he said, an anonymous tip line is being launched, with ads slated to run on buses. A $500 reward will be given to any tipster whose information leads to the seizure of an illegal firearm.

The hope, Reidy said, is that “a substantial reward” will bring results.

Another part of DISCOVER is free pistol-training courses to be offered by the sheriff’s office to Albany County residents.

“The state went from a four-hour to a 16-hour requirement on the pistol license …,” said Reidy. “There are some pretty big waiting lines on pistol certification and the cost of them has gone way up … You might be paying quite a bit of money.”

He went on, “The sheriff’s goal is to do those certification courses for free and have them done by the sheriff’s department.” Reidy said this would be “politically neutral” and taught by professionals in Albany County that “everyone knows and trusts.”

A final part of the DISCOVER program is to offer, for free, at events throughout the county, such as at gun buybacks, gun-locking mechanisms and instructions about best practices in keeping and storing guns.

“The overall drive here is to help with public safety, help reduce gun violence, and help promote responsible gun ownership,” Reidy concluded.

More Guilderland News

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  • The new training center will be a single building with a four-story tower at one end, a two-story section with a pitched roof in the middle, and two burn rooms at the other end.

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