Schenectady isn’t the only city in the region to experience a rash of gun violence this year. As anyone who’s paid attention to the news lately knows, there have been plenty of shootings in Albany, too, prompting the creation of a 13-member task force to study the issue. Action would be a better idea.
In Schenectady, a two-month gun amnesty program was announced last week with the cooperation of local clergy. But as of Saturday morning, only a single person had responded. She did, however, turn in seven guns belonging (legally) to her late husband, so that’s seven guns that can’t find their way to the streets if, say, she had a change of heart in the future and decided to sell them, or if her house was burglarized and the guns got stolen.
In other words, it’s better than nothing. But let’s be realistic: How many people with guns in their homes are likely to turn them in when there’s really no incentive except that they won’t be held accountable if the weapon wasn’t duly registered? Probably not many, and certainly not the ones most likely to use their guns in some illegal way.
Part of the problem is that police don’t go out of their way looking for illegal guns and rarely make arrests for possessing them unless a crime is committed. So the carrot — giving up an illegal weapon with no questions asked — is worth almost nothing because people realize there’ll be virtually no stick when the amnesty is over.
The city created a buyback program eight years ago, offering a $50 supermarket gift certificate (courtesy of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department, Schenectady Municipal Housing Authority and Price Chopper). It wasn’t entirely successful — some people took advantage of the offer to get rid of useless junk weapons — but roughly 100 guns got turned in. Such programs have worked elsewhere: Perhaps the key is a requirement that the gun prove capable of firing. But with no incentive, it’s hard to imagine the current amnesty program yielding many guns.