More than 700 guns — including an AR-15 high-capacity assault weapon similar to the one used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting — were turned in this weekend in Montclair during the countywide gun buyback program.
The cash-for-guns program was held at five churches at sites in Montclair, Newark and others in Essex County.
Verona police officials have praised neighboring Montclair for teaming up with Essex County and get guns off the street.
“I think anything that would take any illegal weapons off the street is a good idea,” he said.
In Montclair alone, 719 weapons were collected at the Union Baptist Church on Midland Avenue, where local and state police officers could be seen on Friday and Saturday.
The four other sites hauled in 1,051 weapons, said state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa during a press conference in Newark Tuesday.
“By any measure this buyback was a success and another step forward in our continuing effort to make New Jersey safer by taking deadly weapons out of circulation,” said Chiesa, who was flanked by clergy members, law enforcement and mayors from East Orange, Irvington, Orange, Montclair and Newark.
Even though Montclair is less than one-fifth as populous as Newark and has a far lower violent-crime rate, the township's gun buyback accounted for nearly half of the overall weapons collected this weekend. In addition to the AR-15 rifle, someone turned “pen gun” at the Union Baptist Church this weekend.
Participants from outside Montclair may have felt safer handing in weapons there, Chiesa said, although he was unsure exactly why the take in Montclair was so high.
“I can’t explain why we got more than 2,000 weapons in Trenton either,” Chiesasaid.
“The reality is we’re all in the same community....the state approach, the comprehensive approach, is the way to go,” said Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
The buyback program allowed gun owners to turn in up three guns each and to receive as much as $250 per weapon, no questions asked. The county buyback is the third to be held in New Jersey in recent months, following buybacks in Camden and Mercer counties.
All told, the three buybacks together yielded about 5,400 weapons, purchased with $242,000 from the state’s crime forfeiture fund.
This most recent Essex buyback turned up 1,000 more weapons than were recovered in December 2009, the last time a buyback was held here, said Anthony Ambrose, the chief of detectives of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which helped coordinate the effort.
A conference table at Newark’s emergency services operations center was piled high Tuesday with a diverse cache of firearms, including 70 guns that were illegal to own because they had high-capacity magazines, sawed-off barrels or for other reasons. At least six had been stolen, and one had been used in a Newark shooting, said Samuel DeMaio, the director of the Newark Police Department.
Those taking part in the buyback had various motives for giving up their weapons, Chiesa added. Some mentioned the desire to get guns out of their house following the Newtown shootings.
“One of the things we found in Newark was that they just didn’t want a gun in the home anymore” because of Newtown, DeMaio said.
At least one participant, however, reportedly said he was taking the cash and purchasing a new gun. Still, speakers said Tuesday, the buyback has gone a long way towards making New Jersey streets safer.
“There’s no other way to get 5,400 guns off the streets that I know of,” Chiesa said.