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Bridgeport gun buyback off to strong start

Updated 4:08 pm, Tuesday, December 25, 2012

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  • Bob Coyle, of East Haven, gets ready to turn in a rifle and a shotgun during a gun buyback event at the Bridgeport Police Department's Community Services Division Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 in Bridgeport, Conn. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the city raised $100,000 for the program and will offer up to $200 value for a working handgun, $75 for rifles and higher amounts for assault-type rifles. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post
    Bob Coyle, of East Haven, gets ready to turn in a rifle and a shotgun during a gun buyback event at the Bridgeport Police Department's Community Services Division Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 in Bridgeport, Conn. In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the city raised $100,000 for the program and will offer up to $200 value for a working handgun, $75 for rifles and higher amounts for assault-type rifles. Photo: Autumn Driscoll

 

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BRIDGEPORT -- Barely an hour into its gun buyback program Saturday, city police had paid out $5,000 to get 40 guns, including five assault weapons, off the streets.

People waited as long as 30 minutes to exchange their guns for cash -- up to $400 for a working assault rifle. Officer Nick Oritz called for backup -- kind of -- putting in a call for more tables and chairs for the Bridgeport Police community services division on Sylvan Avenue.

By day's end, police had taken in 104 weapons and paid out $13,400. The program will resume on Friday.

Guns were piled on tables and file cabinets and people waiting held odd-shaped parcels, including a man who brought several handguns and a rifle to the collection in an old trombone case.

Lt. Ray Marek, the department's weapons expert, took each weapon apart, determined whether it was fireable and logged it in. The next step was to see Oritz, who counted out crisp bills from his cash box.

The total collected by 11:30 a.m. matched the effort of the "Guns For Groceries'' effort in September 2010, which only had $5,000 in supermarket gift cards to hand out. This time there is a war chest of $100,000 and growing, Mayor Bill Finch said, and the effort will continue on Saturdays through January.

Three people were waiting when the doors opened at 10 a.m. and the first weapon turned in was an AR-15 assault rifle and the second was a World War II vintage sidearm.

Kevin McMahon, a retired Bridgeport police officer, was there as a member of the public to turn in his .38 caliber service revolver. "I retired in 1988 and when I first came on, we bought our own weapons out of our clothing allowance, and we kept them. But it's been sitting in my closet for the past 25 years.''

Police officers are now issued service weapons that remain department property, officials said.

Although the gun was different, the story was the same with Debra Porter. The city resident said she bought herself a gun for protection in the early 1990s, and never touched it again. The tiny pistol with a magazine no bigger than a Pez candy dispenser, was still in its green cardboard box.

"I lived alone and I thought it'd be a good idea, but now with what happened in Newtown, it's better to get rid of it,'' Porter said.

The shooting rampage Dec. 14 that left 20 children and six adults dead at Sandy Hook School was on everybody's minds at the police community center. Bob Coyle, of Bridgeport, had two long rifles wrapped in plastic garbage bags that he didn't want anymore. "I keep thinking if someone gets into my house, these could end up on the street,'' he said.

Coyle was given the guns by his friend's wife, when his friend died more than 20 years ago. "I don't think they've ever been fired,'' he said.

Coyle made it up to the table just as Elvis Presley's "Blue Christmas'' began playing on the radio next to him. Like most, the city resident seemed relieved not to have the weapons any more.

At one point, there were 21 people waiting to cash in guns, though things began to slow down as noon approached.

Finch asked the crowd for patience. "We're all trying to figure this out,'' the mayor said. "This is a better turnout than we expected, but we'll have more workers here next week.''

Capt. Roderick Porter Sr., who heads the community services division, said the cash incentive definitely helped the turnout. "But I think, too, that after the tragedy in Newtown, people feel the need to take positive steps.''

fjuliano@ctpost.com, 203-330-6326, http://twitter.com/FrankJuliano