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Seven-year buyback effort shelves 6,535 weapons in Allegheny County

Statistics show child gun deaths, injuries off 80%

Wednesday, November 28, 2001

By Bill Heltzel, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Guns killed one child and injured six others in Allegheny County last year. As tragic as those numbers may seem, they represent an 80 percent decrease from 1994, when guns killed or injured 35 children under age 15.

    Goods for guns

Friday, 7 p.m.

Candlelight vigil for victims of gun violence

East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Ave.

Saturday and Dec. 8, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Old No. 2 Firehouse

344 Boulevard of the Allies, Downtown

Homestead Police Department, 140 E. Ninth Ave.

Wilkinsburg Borough Building, 605 Ross St.

Monroeville No. 4 Fire Hall

4370 Northern Pike

$50 gift certificates for handguns, $25 certificates for rifles and shotguns, primarily to Giant Eagle and Kaufmann's. Limit of two certificates per household. Name and address not required. Firearms dealers not eligible. Firearms must be operable. Free gun locks.


And the trend has continued. As of last month, two children had been injured and none killed.

During the same seven years, Goods for Guns of Allegheny County has taken 6,535 firearms off the streets.

Proving cause and effect is nearly impossible for behavior as complex as gun use, but gun buyback promoters believe their program has contributed to that success.

In the next two weeks, they will give gun owners more chances to give up their arms. Goods for Guns will collect weapons on Saturday, and again on Dec. 8, in Pittsburgh, Homestead, Wilkinsburg and Monroeville. A similar program, Gun Amnesty Day, will be held Dec. 8 at four Pittsburgh churches.

The buyback idea is simple. The fewer the guns kept in homes, the less likely children will be shot.

Goods for Guns also gives away gun locks and promotes gun education. On Friday, it will hold a candlelight vigil for victims of gun violence.

The program trades $25 to $50 gift certificates for guns.

Although the exchange is aimed at lawful gun owners, occasionally someone turns in a stolen gun or a gun without a serial number. No names are taken. No arrests are made.

The guns are destroyed.

Saving lives is the purpose and saving money is a byproduct. The medical costs of treating one paraplegic can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The buyback program costs about $50,000 a year.

Allegheny General Hospital pediatricians Matthew Masiello and Michael Hirsh founded Goods for Guns in 1994. Masiello now works in Johnstown and Hirsh in Worcester, Mass.

The Rosenberg Foundation for Public Safety began backing the program last year after Ronald Taylor and Richard Baumhammers went on shooting rampages that killed eight and injured three.

Gun Amnesty Day is a new program sponsored by the Homicide Task Force and Pittsburgh Councilman Sala Udin. The technique is the same, but the goal is to reduce gun-related homicides, especially in the group that has experienced a disproportionate share of violent deaths, young African-American males.

Whether buyback programs work is hard to say.

"It's virtually impossible to prove something didn't happen," said Nathaniel Glosser, president of the Rosenberg Foundation. "And there are other efforts under way to make people aware of the dangers of unlocked, loaded firearms in homes. I think all programs working toward that goal can take a share of credit."

Last year's Goods for Guns survey paints a mixed picture. Although the program is meant to prevent gun violence to children, 80 percent of the people who turned in guns did not have children at home under age 14. Nearly half still kept guns at home, and one-third left their guns unlocked. But a large majority felt safer, in their homes and in the city, for having traded in guns.

No matter how it is explained, an 80 percent reduction in gun deaths and injuries to children stands out. Across all age groups, from 1994 to 2000, firearms deaths by suicide, homicide and accidents declined 25 percent.

Firearms injuries declined by 50 percent, according to the Allegheny County Health Department.

Glosser can't prove scientifically that the gun buyback works, but he is convinced.

"As long as there are as many guns as there are in homes -- about one for every man, woman and child -- we can never let our guard down," he said. "We cannot stop educating people about the dangers of unlocked, loaded firearms in homes."

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