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Boston Mayor Martin Walsh proposes tentative gun buyback program

In the wake of January’s eight gun-related homicides and state legislators’ efforts to strengthen state gun laws, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced he is contemplating enacting a buyback program with the Boston Police Department as part of a comprehensive effort to tackle gun violence in Boston.

The tentative buyback program would allow private gun owners to sell their guns to the city in return for money. In a stepped-up effort to take illegal firearms off the streets, BPD has seized five handguns over the past week. Two handguns were seized Monday, bringing the total number of seized firearms this year to 58, according to the BPD website.

“The Mayor and the Boston Police Department have been discussing a number of strategies to address the violence in our city, including the possibility of a gun buyback program,” Walsh said in a Saturday statement. “The Mayor and Commissioner agree that the City needs to take a comprehensive approach to getting guns off of our streets.”

Walsh’s announcement followed the death of 9-year-old Jan Marcos Peña, a Mattapan boy shot by his 14-year-old brotheron Friday.

The 14-year-old boy, whose name has not been released, was arraigned Monday morning on charges of involuntary manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm. Juvenile Court Judge Leslie Harris set $50,000 cash bail for the youth, who is to appear in court again on March 3, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office.

“Investigators believe the boy was handling the firearm recklessly when it discharged, striking his younger brother,” said the District Attorney’s Office in a Friday release. “The evidence at this stage does not suggest that any other person in the juvenile’s home knew he possessed the firearm.”

John Rosenthal, the founder and chairman of Stop Handgun Violence, said a gun buyback program is worth trying, but not sufficient enough to combat handgun violence.

“Unfortunately, it’s questionable whether gun buyback programs get the right guns off the street,” he said. “Anything short of trading a gang-member gun for a sustainable job is not going to do what is needed.”

Rosenthal said Congress is to blame for its failure in stopping the flow of guns into Boston from states that don’t require background checks. The City of Boston can only do so much without the federal government creating legislation to strengthen gun laws in all states.

“Congress allows 33 states, including New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, to sell guns without a background check,” he said. “As long as that continues, guns will flow to the streets of Boston, and there will be more and more and more preventable gun violence until Congress enacts uniform national gun laws.”

Several residents said the gun buyback program is just the beginning of decreasing gun violence in the city.

Joe Pizziferri III, 20, of Boston, said there should be a greater focus on the social problems that lead to gun violence because gun buyback programs will not be successful without support programs to help people walk away from a violent lifestyle.

“The problem is these days the kids don’t feel they’re engaged in the system,” he said. “[With the gun buyback program], you’ll get a couple old guns, maybe solve some cold cases, but you’re not going to prevent further violence.”

Julie Povall, 61, of Roxbury, said the gun buyback program will not solve all problems with gun violence, but it is a good start.

“It sends a message,” she said. “There’s just too many kids getting a hold of guns. If [people are] going to own a gun, they should lock it up, they should have no ammunition in the gun, and if they can’t do that, they shouldn’t have a gun.”

Cheryl Crawford, 55, of Roxbury, said a gun buyback program would only cover up a larger issue and the police department and Walsh administration should be focusing on making guns more difficult to buy.

“Does it serve the purpose?” she said. “How are these guns getting here? [Getting guns off the streets] is not the major problem, so let’s try to find the solution to the major problem … How do we stop this kind of traffic into Massachusetts?”

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