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Hundreds of guns turned in during city’s buyback program

The gun that an elderly widow turned in at St. John Baptist Church could have been among the most dangerous of the hundreds collected Saturday across Buffalo.

She told Mike Pinnavaia, a firearms instructor for the Buffalo Police Department, that the 12-gauge shotgun belonged to her late husband and she wanted to keep it out of the hands of her grandchildren.

Good move – it was loaded.

The woman was shocked by that news. “She was shaking,” Pinnavaia said.

“That’s maybe an example where a child’s life was saved,” the officer noted.

Saturday was the seventh “No Questions Asked” gun buyback program held by Mayor Byron W. Brown, who called the most recent effort a “real success.”

During a news conference Saturday evening inside the firearms range at Buffalo Police Headquarters, Brown announced that 840 guns were recovered – the second-highest total in the program’s history. The record remains 878 guns in 2007; last year’s total was 760.

Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said 258 handguns were recovered and all but about a dozen were illegal.

About 500 of the collected guns were in working condition.

“I think that with today’s efforts we possibly saved a life,” Derenda said. “I’ll never be able to prove it [but] getting this number of guns off the street at one time has to have an effect.”

People were given pre-paid credit cards ranging in value from $10 for a non-working or antique guns, as well as BB and pellet guns, to $100 for assault weapons. Officials did not reveal the value of the cards given out Saturday.

“The program is working well again,” Brown said during a stop at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, one of six churches that served as collection sites staffed by police department personnel.

“It’s our desire to get unwanted guns out of homes, working guns out of homes, that could end up on the street,” Brown said. “We’ve also heard from a lot of people who said, ‘Thanks for doing this; we just wanted to get the guns out of the house.’ ”

But critics of the program say it doesn’t get the guns being used to commit crimes. And according to the police department’s statistics, shootings account for the majority of homicides annually.

Of the 28 homicides so far this year, gunfire killed 21 victims.

Thirty-five of the 47 homicide victims last year were shot and the number was 42 out of 49 homicides in 2012, according to police data.

Police at the collection sites said some BB and pellet guns as well as objects that look like guns are dead ringers for more serious firearms and could be mistaken as such if aimed at a law enforcement officer.

A man who stopped by the Goodell Street church with some of his late father’s belongings provided Pinnavaia with a perfect example.

A small box contained a shiny object that looked just like a gun but turned out to be a lighter. Pinnavaia picked up a real .22-caliber handgun of roughly the same size and held them side by side.

“One’s a lighter,” Pinnavaia said. “One will kill you. But both will get you killed.”

Though it wasn’t required, some people offered brief explanations about the origins of the guns they were turning in. “It really is anonymous,” Pinnavaia said. “No questions are asked.”

A woman walked in with a purple zippered bag containing four BB or pellet guns, plus what appeared to be a flare gun. She told Pinnavaia they came from her rental property.

People brought rifles and shotguns wrapped in blankets or towels, and plastic shopping bags carrying smaller guns.

Over at True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street, Northeast District Officer John Heitzhaus, a member of the department’s Special Weapons and Tactics team, carefully opened the cylinders of small revolvers. After making sure they weren’t loaded, he threaded a blue zip tie through one of the chambers so the cylinder couldn’t be turned.

Several of the guns turned in were loaded, Heitzhaus said.

On the floor was a menacing-looking gun that resembled an assault rifle. Police had wrapped the trigger area in duct tape after removing an ammunition magazine, which then was taped to a laser sight.

“They tell me it’s a BB gun,” Heitzhaus said. But the gun’s heft had him questioning whether it was just a toy.

“That’s a kid’s toy that will get you killed,” he said.

News Staff Reporter Shawn Campbell contributed to this report. email: