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Buffalo launches buyback of firearms

When Mayor Byron W. Brown called the Rev. Darius Pridgen to tell him about Buffalo's upcoming gun buyback program, the pastor was skeptical. Like many people, Pridgen said he didn't think taking a few handguns off the street was the answer.

But Pridgen said a revelation from his father changed his mind. When he was just 14, the future minister illegally bought a gun. His father found the weapon in the family's home, took it away and punished his son.

But until a few months ago, Pridgen didn't know that his father turned in the weapon years later during a city gun buyback program.

On June 2, weapons experts from the Police Department will be at Pridgen's True Bethel Full Gospel Baptist Church and in five other churches throughout the city to accept guns, "no questions asked."

People who turn in weapons will receive prepaid bank cards in amounts ranging from $10 to $100, depending on the type of weapon. The cards can be used anywhere credit cards are accepted, Brown said.

At a news conference Wednesday, community leaders endorsed the program.

Leonard E. Lane, head of Fathers Armed Together to Help Educate, Restore and Save, disputed the contentions that buybacks do little to rid communities of weapons generally used to commit crimes.

"Any gun that fires a bullet could be a potential threat to lives," Lane said.

Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson noted that even a nonfunctioning gun or replica could cause tragedy if the device is used in a way that forces an officer to fire in self-defense.

Brown has no illusions that the one-day buyback will solve the city's crime problems. He calls it one tactic in a multiple-pronged anti-crime offensive.

The buyback is patterned after programs in several other cities, Brown said. Chicago, for example, recovered 4,200 guns during two one-day buybacks.

Weapons will be exchanged for the following denominations of prepaid bank cards: $10 for nonworking or antique guns, including pellet guns and BB guns; $50 for rifles or shotguns; $75 for handguns; and $100 for assault weapons such as Uzis or AK-47s.

The buyback is being financed in part through $30,000 in assets forfeited through seizures from drug probes and other crimes. Erie County Medical Center also has donated $10,000, and the program has received additional pledges from other outside sources, officials said.

People can bring weapons to the following sites between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. June 2:

* Church of the Good Shepard, 96 Jewett Parkway.

* Prince of Peace Christian Church, 190 Albany St.

* Primera United Methodist Church, 62 Virginia St.

* St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 450 Abbott Road.

* True Bethel Baptist Church, 907 E. Ferry St.

* St. John Baptist Church, 184 Goodell St.

Brown said churches have proved to be good venues for gun buybacks in other cities, because people feel "very comfortable" coming to places of worship. He stressed that people will not be questionned, nor will they be asked for identification.

"Our only intent here is to get these weapons off the street and hopefully save a life," Brown said.

What if someone turns in a gun later found to have been used in a crime?

"We won't know who turned that gun in," Gipson said. "We'll just have to ramp up our investigative efforts and try to find them the good old-fashioned way."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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