Halifax police say they aren’t looking to bring back a 2009 program that took thousands of guns off the streets, even after the city’s recent string of shooting deaths.
At last month’s Stop the Violence rally, The Coast asked Halifax Regional Police chief Jean-Michel Blais if a buy-back program was being considered in the wake of three gun-related homicides in a single week.
“We have looked at that, and we’re looking at getting something up in the next little while,” Blais said.
But HRP public relations manager Theresa Rath clarifies that the chief misspoke.
“HRP doesn’t have a gun amnesty or gun buy-back program planned at this time,” Rath writes in an email. “It’s something we have done in the past and may be willing to do again, but isn’t something we are currently undertaking.”
Halifax previously organized a gun buy-back—sponsored by Henry’s Camera—in November of 2009. The four-week “Pixels for Pistols” program traded guns for digital cameras.
It wasn’t a true amnesty program. Anyone turning in a gun still faced the possibility of criminal charges if the firearm was linked ballistically to a crime. It also wasn’t anonymous. Residents had to call or email police to come pick up guns from their homes.
But even with those limitations, it’s hard not to call the program a success. Over 1,000 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition were confiscated in a four-week period. In a single month, Halifax police more than doubled the amount of weapons they took off the street in a year.
Did it stop any future shootings, though? Studies fluctuate on whether firearm buy-back programs are actually effective in preventing violent crime, or just a publicity stunt. But even if it’s not “criminals” turning in guns, reducing the stockpile of weapons in Halifax would be of benefit, given that HRP claim the majority of crime guns they confiscate are stolen locally from legal gun owners.
That’s one of the reasons Don Clairmont’s 2014 review of HRM’s roundtable on violence recommended that—despite the iffiness of success—Halifax Regional Police “should consider future gun buy-back programs” as a cost-effective approach to removing firearms from city streets.
Detective sergeant Darrell Gaudet, who’s in charge of HRP’s Special Enforcement Section, echoes that recommendation.
“Those sort of things always help,” says Gaudet. “They worked last time.”
Gaudet says he can’t speak to whether there are more guns in the city in recent years, but he has seen an increase in demand for firearms.
“For those that are involved in criminal activity, that choose that lifestyle, right now it’s what they like to have,” he says. “It’s there for them, they think, for their own protection.”
There aren’t any numbers collected so far this year for guns seized by police, but in 2015 HRP and the RCMP confiscated 241 firearms—93 of which they deemed a “crime gun” (either used in a crime, or illegally modified).
That’s actually down significantly from 2014’s confiscation of 477 weapons (135 of which were crime guns), and fits an overall decline in firearm seizures since 2010.
Police spokesperson Dianne Woodworth writes in an email that HRP already have a “number of initiatives” related to firearms safety underway. Most of those, she says, were under development prior to the city’s recent shooting deaths.
“It is also important to note that citizens wishing to relinquish a firearm, may do so at any time by contacting police.”
In a follow-up, Woodworth adds that there has been “much discussion by many different stakeholders” about how HRP and the RCMP will collectively deal with the recent violence in Halifax, but an amnesty program remains off the table in favour of vague gun safety campaigns.
“Several options for community programs are being considered but the police department isn’t able to release more details about those plans at the moment.”
In the meantime, HRP and RCMP continue to investigate the murders of Tyler Richards, Joseph Cameron, Daverico Downey and Naricho Clayton—now all part of Nova Scotia’s Major Unsolved Crimes Program. Anyone with information leading to an arrest and conviction of those responsible is eligible for cash rewards of up to $150,000 per case.
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