By Karen Zautyk
It appears that the pen really is mightier than the sword. Especially if there’s ammo in it.
The 1,770 weapons turned in to authorities by Essex County residents during a two-day state-sponsored gun buyback included handguns, rifles, sawed-off shotguns, submachine guns — and one ballpoint pen that had been converted into a firearm.
This particular weapon, with a spring-operated trigger, can fire just one bullet before it needs reloading, a law-enforcement source told us. But, then, just one can be lethal.
The buyback, held at churches in five Essex towns the weekend of Feb. 16-17, was the third such initiative since December, and the first in this area since 2009. The other two were in Camden County (1,100 guns collected) and Mercer County (2,600).
Police officers were at the churches to collect the weapons, but this was a “no-questions- asked” effort.
Those who turned in their weapons were paid from $50 to $250 per gun, with a maximum of three per person.
According to N.J. Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa, the total paid out in Essex was $242,225, the money coming from state and county criminal forfeiture funds.
At a press conference at the Newark Police Department, Chiesa reported that, in addition to other weapons, the weekend buyback brought in more than 1,100 handguns and 31 semi-automatic assault weapons. Among the semiautomatics were an AR-15 rifle (similar to the type of weapon used in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre), two Uzis, several nine-millimeter, 40 caliber and 380 caliber handguns and “numerous” sawed-off shotguns.
About 95% of the firearms were operable. Reportedly at least six were stolen and approximately 70 were illegal to own “because they feature unlawfully high ammunition capacities, have sawed-off barrels or are otherwise modified.”
Displaying the pen gun, Chiesa said, “What other use does a pen gun have other than to conceal it and go kill somebody?”
The Montclair collection site, the Union Baptist Church, recorded by far the largest number of guns: 716.
The other tallies were: Irvington, 311; Newark, 308; East Orange, 231, and Orange, 204. “By any measure,” Chiesa said, the gun buyback “was a success, and another step forward in our continuing effort to make New Jersey residents safer by taking dangerous guns out of circulation.”
That effort targets not only weapons that could be used in criminal activity but also those that simply might get into the wrong hands, like the hands of a child, and lead to tragedy. Many individuals who turned in firearms apparently did so for the latter reason. “They just didn’t want the gun in the house anymore,” said Newark Police Director Samuel DeMaio.
Gun buybacks continue to be controversial, but in a statement issued by his office, the attorney general acknowledged that these initiatives alone “can’t solve the complex and multi-faceted problem of gun violence,” but he called them “an important aspect of a larger strategy to get firearms out of communities and reduce the number of shooting deaths and injuries.”
“Since we began this buyback program,” Chiesa stated, “we’ve taken more than a 5,000 firearms off the streets. That’s 5,000 weapons that can never be used to commit a crime, terrorize someone, or maim or kill an innocent person.”
The Rev. Ron Christian of Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington, one of the buyback sites, commented: “Every gun (turned in) is a reflection of one less funeral, one less suicide or one less homicide in our community.”
The reverend can speak from experience. In 2009, the New York Times profiled the pastor, noting: “In some recent years, Mr. Christian estimates, as many as two-thirds of the people he has buried have been under the age of 30.”
The Essex buyback was a cooperative effort involving the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, the East Orange, Irvington, Montclair, Newark and Orange Police Departments, N.J. State Police, the state Division of Criminal Justice, the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, the “faith-based community” and the mayors of the five host municipalities.