HOUSTON – The jury is still out for the gift card initiative known as the gun buyback program.
Whether it’s $50 or $200, just turn in a gun, and Houston-area leaders won’t ask for your contact information. We’ve seen three of them and expect five more in the near future.
“I think we got to do more than just give thoughts and prayers,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
We’ve seen two years of staggering numbers of shootings and homicides. Houston-area leaders will tell you violent crime is down and we’re trending in the right direction around the city.
“It is HPD providing more overtime, putting more boots on the ground. It’s the greater utilization of technology. It’s the gun buyback program initiatives,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner during one of the gun buyback events.
Mayor Turner believes his $63 million One Safe Houston initiative is helping.
Inside that package is $1 million in funding for the area’s first two city-sponsored gun buybacks.
During the first two-gun buybacks, the City of Houston took in 2,064 firearms.
In total, 1,107 were handguns, while 858 were rifles and shotguns and 99 came back as 3D printed guns or considered to be toys.
The city used ballistics testing on the firearms it received. Once put into the NIBIN system, 22 came back related to a crime. We don’t know the outcome of those cases.
In the last buyback the county took in 793 guns. Those guns were only tested to see if they worked or not.
While the city is still working to get total costs for the first two buybacks, Precinct 1 tells KPRC 2 Investigates they spent $102,850.48. And somehow within that, there is $18,400 in I-OWE-YOUs in gift cards.
“(They) will be purchased in the coming days because we ran out of gift cards,” said a Precinct 1 spokesperson.
Commissioner Ellis tells us that he expects federal reimbursement for the gun buyback.
“As long as a gun buyback program is a part of a much larger program, one additional tool in the toolbox along with traditional law enforcement, violence interruption programs, alternative to calling our friends in law enforcement every time there is a problem,” he added.
The commissioner went on to say, “A lot of these people who are naysayers now, well making their voices a lot more vocal when the State of Texas was passing the most lenient gun laws in the country. You just can’t put blinders on and find any one thing you want to take a shot at.”
“Well, the gun buybacks programs to us just seem like a waste of time and a waste of money because what they’re doing is they’re breaking the chain of custody for these guns,” said Attorney Robin Foster with the Harris County Deputies Organization.
By not giving a name when a firearm is turned over, the union attorney says the anonymous transaction can’t -- or at least hasn’t been -- used for prosecution in a court of law.
The commissioner said there’s another avenue law enforcement can take.
“Look there are cameras all around. In this society, whoever is bringing the guns in, the best practice that we found was you can’t go in and ask for ID or they won’t bring the guns in. We did the research everywhere around the country, but trust me, law enforcement knows who you are. They can find you,” said Commissioner Ellis.
With nearly 3,000 firearms taken off the streets, the deputies union said gun buybacks are an ineffective tool.
“I’m not going to sit here and say that taking guns off the street isn’t a good thing. But we also have a lack of resources for our deputies and for our constables in order to do this work do the regular police work that would move these cases forward to collect these guns and the regular course of Investigations,” Foster said.
If getting one gun off the street is a symbol of success, then this program is successful.
There are federal grants aiding law enforcement’s training. And in the City of Houston, a large portion of the One Safe Houston initiative is reserved to getting law enforcement what it needs to lower crime.