BRIDGETON — A cash-for-guns program held Friday and Saturday in Cumberland County resulted in the second-largest firearms purchase of the seven gun buyback events sponsored by the state since December.
Law-enforcement agents spent $365,000 to buy 2,509 firearms ranging from handguns to rifles and shotguns, authorities said Tuesday.
Included in the weapons purchased during the program, sponsored by the state Attorney General’s Office, were 128 assault weapons and a functional World War I machine gun.
Authorities displayed the array of weapons during a news conference Tuesday at the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office. The firearms piled atop and around a large conference table and stuffed into big recycling cans represented only about half the weapons bought during the program, authorities said.
Acting State Attorney General John J. Hoffman called the results “inspiring,” especially considering that Cumberland County’s population is smaller than the other six counties where the cash-for-guns programs were held.
Those counties included Camden, Mercer, Essex, Monmouth, Atlantic and Passaic. The most weapons — 2,604 — were purchased in Mercer County in January. Law-enforcement agents bought 2,061 weapons in Atlantic County in March.
“It is truly sobering to view the array of lethal weapons collected in front of us here today,” Hoffman said. “A gun that is no longer in circulation, a gun that no longer exists, cannot be used to commit a crime, to shoot someone in the heat of an argument, or go off accidentally in the hands of a curious child.”
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said she was pleased with the “phenomenal turnout and the amount of firearms turned in.”
“Any gun seized is one less weapon that may fall into the wrong hands or harm an innocent bystander,” she said.
When asked if any of the weapons purchased Friday and Saturday posed a greater threat than others, Vineland Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said, “All of these weapons pose a threat to the general public and to law enforcement were they to fall into the wrong hands. Any one is capable of killing a person. That’s how we look at them.”
Law-enforcement agents bought the firearms at houses of worship in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland. Officials said the state gun buyback program employs houses of worship because people feel more comfortable using them than a government building.
The purchases were made with $365,000 in forfeiture funds collected by law enforcement during various investigations and operations. The state contributed $360,000 toward the operation, with Cumberland County providing the remaining $5,000. Authorities paid as much as $250 per weapon, depending on the type.
Webb-McRae said authorities opted for three purchase locations because many Cumberland County residents have transportation difficulties. That made it easier for residents to get to a purchase site, she said.
Webb-McRae, who said she was surprised by the number of weapons purchased, said the success of the sale was aided by good cooperation among law enforcement and various community and religious groups.
Authorities said they will make every attempt to return stolen weapons to their rightful owners. State Police can take any firearms they deem to be of a historic nature for their museum. All other weapons will be destroyed.
Hoffman, in his first appearance at a public event since being named the state’s acting attorney general Monday, acknowledged that the gun buyback program has its critics.
“We’ve never suggested that the gun buybacks are a singular, standalone answer to the problem of gun violence,” he said. “However, there’s no question that buybacks are a worthwhile part of the solution, and they clearly have the support of many New Jersey residents.”
Hoffman said his office is still determining the next county in which to hold its cash-for-guns program.
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