Finizio announces New London gun buy-back initiative

New London — The city, with donations from religious organizations and others, will buy back guns from the public over four days in March.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio announced Thursday afternoon that community leaders from throughout New London County will help raise funds for the buyback initiative, paying $75 to $150 for various guns that are turned in to New London police.

The heads of five churches from New London, Old Lyme, Noank and Niantic, and Congregation Beth El, have pledged to raise money for the program. No city funds will be used to purchase the guns, Finizio said.

“We have to do this. It’s a must,’’ said the Rev. Daniel Martino, pastor of the First Hispanic Baptist Church of New London, following a press conference outside the mayor’s office.

“It’s a moral imperative,” said the Rev. Carolyn Patierno of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation in New London.

Other religious leaders who attended the press conference and said their congregations will help were Rabbi Carl Astor of Beth El, the Rev. Dr. Paul Hayes of Noank Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. John Nelson of Niantic Congregational Church and the Rev. Carleen Gerber of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.

The New London County Bar Association also pledged to raise $25,000 for the program. In light of the Newtown school shooting, the association voted to support the program in an effort to reduce the number of guns on the street, said Daniel Horgan, president of the association.

“We wanted to do something tangible,” said Horgan, whose association represents about 200 lawyers in the county.

On March 2, 3, 9 and 10, the New London Police Department will collect guns at the Truman Street police substation. The program is open to residents across the region. Visa gift cards will be given in exchange for the weapons. Handguns will be purchased for $100, shotguns and traditional rifles for $75, and assault-style weapons for $150.

The guns will be brought to the Connecticut State Police and destroyed.

Earlier this month, City Council President Michael Passero said he wanted to look into the possibility of the city having a gun buyback program. In 2007, the City Council opted not to have such a program, he said, adding he wanted some information on the recent programs in New Haven and Bridgeport.

“I don’t know the details’’ of Finizio’s plan, Passero said Thursday. “But any guns you get off the street will be a step in the right direction.”

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Dec. 14, several communities in Connecticut have sponsored similar programs. According to press reports, Bridgeport raised $100,000 in private donations for a program in December, which netted 200 guns in two days. New Haven held two gun buyback events and collected about 125 weapons.

Finizio said the local buyback will not be an amnesty program. Police will check serial numbers on the guns to be sure they were not used in a crime.

In New London, gun violence between 2003 and 2010 exceeded the national average, Finizio said, quoting research prepared by the mayor’s intern, Christopher Baker. Between those years, 76 percent of the murders in New London were committed with guns, compared with the national average of 67.2 percent, he said.

Individuals can also make donations, which are tax-deductible, to the City of New London – Gun Buyback, Mayor’s Office, New London City Hall, 181 State St., New London, CT 06320.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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