- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

The Bush administration is ending a $15 million gun-buyback program at urban housing developments, cutting off federal funds for highly publicized efforts in the District and other cities.
Two recent buybacks in the District, funded with $200,000 from American taxpayers, hauled in thousands of guns and lots of favorable media coverage. But critics including the federal department that ran the program — said the policy was ineffective because the people turning in guns were mostly law-abiding citizens rather than criminals.
"Gun-retrieval programs are of little real value," said John Frazer, federal lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. "Studies show [the guns purchased in buybacks] are old guns turned in by old people, none of whom fit the criminal profile."
Begun in November 1999 by President Clinton, the program took in guns in housing projects nationwide in its first year, paying $50 to $100 per weapon. Local police departments were given up to $500,000 for the program.
Last year, only 100 of the 1,000 housing authorities were participating, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which operated the program.
"This is clearly not part of the core mission of HUD," spokeswoman Nancy Segerdahl said yesterday. "HUD should do housing; that's our core mission."
She said no one even knows how many guns were taken in or whether the program had any effect on crime. "There were no records, no measurable documentation whatsoever. What you might have is just criminals trading up their guns."
Miss Segerdahl also said 80 members of Congress asked that the program be ended. "This was a controversial, questionably legal program from the beginning. Even the housing authorities have not taken advantage of the program."
D.C. police have netted mixed results from gun buybacks. An event in August 1999 netted nearly 3,000 weapons, about twice the number exchanged during a December buyback.
Police found that a small percentage of the guns had been stolen or traced to crimes. But city leaders defended the policy by arguing that the guns collected could have caused accidental deaths, been stolen or been used in violent crimes.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development gave $100,000 toward each of the last two D.C. gun buybacks, though most of the money came from criminal forfeitures.
Executive Assistant Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said his department will have to look elsewhere for funding, or turn to other methods.
"It was just a portion of our strategy. It was not the answer, it was part of a process," he said.
Chief Gainer said police have no plans to allocate criminal forfeiture money for any more buyback programs this year.
Baltimore and Annapolis also have used HUD money for gun buybacks.
HUD officials said funding was cut because the buyback program could make no guarantees that it was decreasing the supply of guns to criminals or that lawbreakers were surrendering their weapons. HUD said buybacks remove only 1 percent to 2 percent of guns from the streets.
HUD officials said that while federal funding for the program was being eliminated, individual housing authorities could use their own money to run buyback programs.
Taxpayers' groups praised the Bush administration's move.
"It's about time," said David Williams, vice president for policy at Citizens Against Government Waste. "We think [the program] was a complete waste of money."
Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union, said the Bush administration is making good on its pledge to clear away deadwood programs.
"It's one of the few instances in which the executive branch has taken prompt action to terminate a program that hasn't had much benefit. If Congress would get into the act as well and apply that standard to the rest of government, we might be talking about savings in the billions instead of the millions," Mr. Sepp said.
Gun-control advocates saw the move as further evidence of a Bush administration push to erode gun laws. Earlier this month, Attorney General John Ashcroft shortened from 90 days to 24 hours the period that the government could keep gun purchasers' instant-background-check records.
"It's pretty much further evidence that the NRA is working out of this administration," said Nancy Hwa, spokeswoman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "It's been pretty clear that they've been working out of the Justice Department, so I guess it's spread to HUD."
Miss Hwa defended gun-buyback efforts. "Gun buybacks are useful in terms of giving people an outlet to get rid of their guns or maybe giving them the extra incentive to get rid of their guns," she said.
The program and especially the federal funding for it — came under scrutiny last year when Rep. James T. Walsh, New York Republican, asked the General Accounting Office to review whether HUD could use money intended for a program called Operation Safe Home to conduct the gun-buyback program. The GAO ruled use of the money was acceptable but questioned the efficacy of the program.

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