Sunday, June 04, 2000

Newport officials study handgun buyback plan

Program pays private owners to sell weapons

By Terry Flynn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        NEWPORT — The Newport Housing Authority, working with Newport police, could launch a handgun buyback program for city residents in the next few weeks, housing and law enforcement officials say.

        The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers a program called Violence Reduction Gun Buyback Initiative.

        HUD provides 43 cents of every dollar paid to buy handguns only, with a recommended price of $50 per weapon. The program is intended to get handguns off the streets and away from children.

        The Newport Housing Authority's executive director, Mark Brown, said Friday he is evaluating how the program will work locally.

        “We will use some of the funds we've received from the (federal) Drug Elimination Program for the buyback, to match the HUD funds,” Mr. Brown said.

        “I'm looking at the budget now to determine how much we can use. We'll probably go with the HUD recommended price of $50 per gun.”

        Newport Police Chief Tom Fromme said his officers will take possession of the handguns that are purchased by the housing authority and run checks to determine whether they are stolen.

        “Once we've checked them, we'll destroy them,” Chief Fromme said.

        Mr. Brown said the next step toward starting the gun buyback is to prepare and present a copy of HUD's memorandum of understanding with the city to the housing authority's board of directors for approval.

        “I hope the board can sign off on an agreement in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Then it will be sent to HUD for their review and approval.”

        HUD has provided funds for handgun buybacks in Louisville, Lexington, Frankfort and several other Kentucky cities, and officials in those cities have said they are pleased with the results.

        In almost every instance of federal gun buybacks, in Kentucky and around the country, all available funds have been exhausted through firearms purchases.

        Newport's buyback proposal could have an effect on a new Kentucky law involving guns confiscated by police, usually because they have been used in a crime.

        The 2000 Kentucky General Assembly mandated that if a police department does not sell its confiscated guns in 45 days, it must turn them over to the state police for auction. Only federally licensed gun dealers can then buy the weapons.

        But officials from most of Kentucky's large cities, including Newport and Covington, have said they don't want to see the confiscated firearms re-sold, even to licensed dealers. They would prefer to allow police the option of destroying the weapons.

        Recently the HUD office in Kentucky asked the state attorney general's office to research whether the new state law allows HUD to buy the guns from police.

        If Attorney General Ben Chandler concludes that local departments can sell the weapons to a federal agency, then the Kentucky HUD office would explore whether it could use money from its buyback program to buy all confiscated guns from police departments.

        Mr. Chandler has not indicated how soon he will give an opinion, but he has asked for written comments from interested parties, including State Rep. Bob Damron (D-Nicholasville), who sponsored the bill forcing police to sell guns rather than destroy them.

        Some gun rights advocates have said such a measure protects people's rights to own guns.


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