White House Cuts off Funding for Gun Buys

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Byline: Joseph Curl and Gerald Mizejewski

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. …