Sunday, July 22, 2001

Lynch's comment on looted guns, buyback denied

Mayor, police deny minister's claims in TV interview

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Rev. Damon Lynch III told millions of television viewers Friday that Cincinnati streets are awash in guns stolen from pawnshops during the April riots, and that the mayor will soon implement a gun buyback program. None of that is true.

        Mayor Charlie Luken said Saturday he knows nothing about plans to buy guns from residents and questions whether such a program could even work.

        And despite persistent rumors that hundreds of guns were taken from pawnshops, police say only one pawnshop was burglarized during the riots, and the only gun inside was left there.

        “We don't have 700 guns stolen in this city in a year,” said Police Spc. Dick Gross, who is in charge of monitoring all city pawnshops. “This didn't happen.”

        In an interview on the Fox News show, The O'Reilly Factor, the Rev. Mr. Lynch

        said he understands that, “during the unrest, pawnshops were broken into, guns were stolen. There are guns on the street.”

        Spc. Gross said only one shop was hit during the riots — Barr's Loan in Over-the-Rhine. One gun was inside, he said; looters left it.

        Chief Tom Streicher, when he announced a new violent crime task force last week, said the pawnshop thefts were only rumor.

        Spc. Roger Robbins, the police division's burglary/ robbery coordinator, said about 200 guns have been reported stolen this year so far throughout the city.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch was being interviewed about the rash of shootings that has left 78 victims in 60 separate incidents since the April riots. The 78th victim was a 2-year-old boy caught in the cross-fire of a gunbattle on Vine Street just minutes before the show aired Friday night.

        The boy, who was hit in the chest, was listed in critical condition Saturday at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch, senior pastor of New Prospect Baptist Church in Over-the-Rhine and the leader of the Cincinnati Black United Front, has led protest marches, called for boycotts of downtown businesses and criticized city officials for failing to make changes since the riots.

        He was also appointed to co-chair Cincinnati Community Action Now, a race-relations commission created by Mr. Luken after the riots.

        The Rev. Mr. Lynch did not return several calls Saturday made to his home, church and cell phone.

        “I understand the mayor is going to implement a gun buyback program,” the Rev. Mr. Lynch told talk show host Bill O'Reilly.

        That was news to Mr. Luken.

        “I don't know anything about it,” he said Saturday. “Nobody has approached me about it.”

        There has been some discussion among Cincinnati CAN members, but Mr. Luken said he has heard about it only secondhand and nobody has approached him with a specific idea.

        “My question would be are we getting the guns that people are using to shoot each other?” he said. “Is it effective?”

        The Tristate's first gun buyback program, in Newport last December, drew mediocre response, yielding 42 guns in return for $50. The guns returned were mostly old and inexpensive small-caliber handguns; 10 were long guns.

        “History has shown that gun buyback programs are nothing more than a worthless publicity stunt,” police union president Keith Fangman said Saturday. “Other cities that have tried that type of nonsense find that most of the people who turn in guns are middle-aged or older citizens who have had a gun in the house that they were afraid of.”

        Officer Fangman said gun buyback programs began in the late 1980s and then quickly went away. He said guns are the ultimate status symbol to criminals, and they aren't likely to trade that for cash.

        “I'm concerned that Reverend Lynch would be naive enough to suggest that this will decrease the gun violence,” Officer Fangman said.

        Reporter Jane Prendergast contributed.



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