On Monday, May 6, Supervisor Dave Cortese and the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office held a press conference to announce the start of a new program whereby citizens can turn in their unwanted guns. The press release in advance of the event stated that people would be able to “turn them into the Sheriff’s Office at any time with no money exchanged (unlike a gun buy-back) and no questions asked.”
Although people cannot just walk their old guns into the Sheriff’s Office, they can show up with their guns unloaded and disarmed back in their cars, at which point police personnel will accompany them to their vehicles and collect the weapons.
The “no questions asked” element of the event got somewhat revised at the press conference, when Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith made it clear that those who turned in guns would also be required to leave their names and contact information.
As for the element of no money being exchanged, questions arose at the event as to whether people would actually turn in their guns without a monetary incentive. Supervisor Cortese was confident on that point, asserting that the generally small costs generated by gun transactions wouldn’t compete against cases where people simply wished to get rid of the weapons.
Indeed, this new Firearms Relinquishment Program was born out of an increasingly apparent concern on the part of gun owners that disposing of their weapons would lead to legal, logistical, and/or safety-related troubles. Oftentimes, in homes where a family member has been lost, and has left his or her guns behind, the family members don’t want the weapon but are confused about what to do with it.
On April 28, 2018, when Supervisor Cortese’s office held a Community Summit on Firearms Safety on Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, the participants’ discussions spurred the existence of this new program. “We did not go into that particular symposium with the idea that we absolutely had to come up with some new great idea, or maybe series of ideas. But we knew that oftentimes the best ideas come from the community,” Cortese said.
Given the prevalence of gun suicides and accidental shootings, and the risk of guns falling into the wrong hands (i.e., those of burglars and felons), a safe, streamlined option for firearm relinquishment stands to reduce mortality and crime. Supervisor Cindy Chavez made a point of mentioning that contrary to popular perceptions, most gun deaths occur by way of suicide. She also shared a personal recollection relating to the issue, while explaining a bit about how the relinquishment process works:
“I was at one of our gun buy-backs and a woman pulled up in her car. And her husband had passed away. She was going into the attic to get some toys — some old toys — to share with her grandchildren and found her husband’s guns. She was really nervous about what to do about that. But she didn’t know how to take the ammunition out or whether or not they were loaded. Here’s what I want to say to all of you: If you are at all concerned or confused about how to get those guns over to us, you can dial 408-299-2311…and just call and ask. And we’re here to help. We want those firearms.”
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has its headquarters at 55 West Younger Avenue in San Jose. People can show up there 24/7 to drop off firearms. Alternatively, during business hours, they can go to the South County Station (80 West Highland Avenue, San Martin) or West Valley Division (1601 South De Anza Boulevard, Cupertino).
A recurring theme throughout the event was a need for bipartisan collaboration and communication around what can be a very sensitive and divisive issue. Jessica Blitchok, the lead of the San Jose group of Moms Demand Action, which advocates for “gun sense in America,” described her group’s mission in notably unifying terms: “We’re not anti-gun; we’re anti-gun violence. And what we believe is that you can support the Second Amendment while doing much more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, such as domestic abusers, and also create a culture of responsible gun ownership.”
But supposing those who turn in guns are criminals, and are looking for a way to unload and destroy evidence? When asked this question, Sheriff Smith made it plain that it’s not consistent with criminals’ ways of thinking for them to approach police personnel with evidence of their own crimes. Meanwhile, the Sheriff also made it clear that the program’s emphasis is on safety and ease of relinquishment: “Enforcement of firearm laws is not what we’re doing here.”
In addition to underlining the program’s value, Supervisor Cortese highlighted the importance of spreading awareness about its existence, asking the media for direct help in doing so:
“Somebody told me a long time ago,” he said, “‘It’s not good to have a great program and have it be a secret in the community.’”