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Tri-city gun buyback exceeds expectations

Published February 24, 2013

Police forces from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park joined together Saturday to buy 355 firearms back from the community using private funds raised by local nonprofit Protect Our Children.  East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica called the event a “great example of cooperation between [the] three cities.” Photo by Allison Cowie.

A collection of rifles, handguns and assault weapons lie on display after their collection by local police during Saturday’s gun buyback event in East Palo Alto. Police forces from Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park joined together to buy 355 firearms back from the community using private funds raised by local nonprofit Protect Our Children. East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica called the event a “great example of cooperation between [the] three cities.” Photo by Allison Cowie.

Three hundred fifty-five firearms, including 17 assault weapons, are off local streets thanks to a tri-city gun buyback program held Saturday in East Palo Alto.

The buyback, organized by the Menlo Park-based Protect Our Children nonprofit in cooperation with the Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park Police Departments, was originally scheduled to be held in front of the East Palo Alto City Hall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but was cut short at 12:40 p.m. due to an exhaustion of reimbursement funds.

A police team comprised of officers from all three cities recovered $52,000 worth of firearms. According to Palo Alto Police Lieutenant Zach Perron, police bought back a total of 355 guns, consisting of 111 handguns, 227 rifles and shotguns and 17 assault weapons.

“Our goal was to maybe get 100 guns off the street but I think we got nearly 400 off,” said James Cook, co-founder of POC. “We could have spent probably double [if we had not ran out of money].”

Roger Lee, co-founder of POC, said guns were bought at $100 to $300 apiece, depending on the danger posed by the weapon.

“Over a hundred different residents of Palo Alto and Menlo Park contributed [to provide money for buying the guns back,]” Lee said. “It was a real grassroots effort.”

The shortage of money was unexpected, according to Cook. When the event ended early there were still numerous cars lined up to deliver firearms.

To compensate the people who had made it to the parking lot before the money ran out, the City of East Palo Alto took $4,000 from funds dedicated to EPA’s annual gun buyback and provided IOUs to the people in the parking lot. The people waiting in the street were encouraged to attend the Santa Clara gun buyback from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 2 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, according to Perron.

The buyback started with an idea by Lee, who was inspired by the Newtown, Conn. shootings in December to rid the community’s streets of guns. He turned to Cook and together they approached Palo Alto Acting Assistant Chief of Police Bob Beacom with their idea.

“He [Beacom] has been on the police force here for 23 years and he was like, ‘You know, we totally were waiting for someone to provide a spark’,” Cook said.

Beacom called the Menlo Park and East Palo Alto police departments and the three organizations partnered to organize the event, according to Cook. The mayors of each city were supportive, and each endorsed and advertised the event within their community.

“A lot of people contributed,” Lee said. “It couldn’t have happened without the help of the local police departments. Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park were all great and we have a deep debt of gratitude to all the people that gave money and contributed time and made this a successful event. We feel really lucky that it worked out so well.”

After the buyback, the guns will be efficiently disposed.

“A private company will actually take and destroy the guns and the value they get from the parts, the metals, pay for their costs,” Cook said.

The overwhelming success of the event left organizers hopeful for future buybacks.

“There are certainly plenty of guns out there that people want to sell and my guess is the next version of this will be a combination of a privately funded and a publicly funded event,” Lee said.

“We’ve learned a lot of things from doing this and we want to give that information out to other communities if they want to do it, whether they’re in the Bay Area or in other places in California or in maybe other states,” Cook said. “It’s like, ‘Hey, you guys can do this too.’”

Cook was pleased with the unexpected success of the event.

“All we had was an idea and we went to the police and… they helped us and now look what came out of it,” Cook said. “A truckload of guns will be destroyed and won’t cause any danger to anyone ever again.”


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