Debate Magazine

Tacoma Police Chief Rejects ‘no Questions Asked’ Gun Buyback

By Eowyn @DrEowyn
Police Chief Ramsdell

Police Chief Ramsdell A gun buyback or “turn-in” event in Tacoma might be abandoned before it’s even officially proposed. Some politicians like the idea but the police chief thinks it just doesn’t work.

When Seattle announced a gun buyback last year, law enforcement, health officials and politicians lined up in support.

But there’s been no such consensus in Tacoma. Police Chief Don Ramsdell is not a fan of gun buybacks, while Tacoma City Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Victoria Woodards loves the idea. She attended a community rally after the accidental shooting death of a 17-year-old Tacoma boy last October.

Deputy Mayor Woodwards

Deputy Mayor Woodards

“I challenged those kids to put down their guns or if they found a gun to turn it in to get rid of it because these are the kinds of things that can happen when you think a gun is a toy,” said Woodards. “I challenged them to do it but I couldn’t tell them how to do it.” She wishes she’d had a gun collection bin at that rally last year.

“Would we have gotten back 50 guns? No. Might we have gotten back one? Maybe. And one gun saves another life.”

Tacoma is developing a new gun safety education program and a gun surrender event was suggested as one possible component. Woodards thinks the only way to have a successful gun turn-in is to make it, “no questions asked,” as did Seattle last year. Seattle and King County collected 364 rifles and 348 pistols in the 2013 gun buyback.

Tacoma’s police chief is against buybacks, particularly the “no questions asked” approach, which he thinks could give criminals a free pass.

“Just because someone wants to turn in a gun doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be held accountable for the crime that was committed with the gun,” said police spokeswoman Loretta Cool. Police will take unwanted guns from citizens, but they take names, too.

“We have always had the policy in place that we’ll go and pick them up,” she explained. “We’ll make sure it hasn’t been involved in any crimes and then label it for destruction. We’ve found, over the years, that is the safest way to handle it.”

But Councilmember Woodards thinks a community event is the only way to collect a significant number of guns. “So how many guns do we get turned in a year with the fact that you could either walk into a substation or you can call the non-emergency number and police will come get it?” asked Woodards.

Cool agrees that buybacks can generate a lot of weapons returns. But, based on the experience of other departments, “A lot of the guns that are received are guns that are in-operational, they’re guns that have been sitting around in someone’s basement or garage.”

Woodards now says it looks like a turn-in event will not be part of Tacoma’s current gun safety program, which kicks off in August. She concedes that buybacks don’t necessarily reduce crime or even gun violence. Still, “I’m open to any idea that gets guns off the streets and out of the hands of kids.”

She hasn’t completely given up on a buyback or surrender event. “I think there has to be those opportunities.”


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