State, Cumberland County and local enforcement agencies will use houses of worship in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland next month to help get "deadly firearms out of circulation" in the county.
The effort involves the seventh cash-for-guns program sponsored by the state Attorney General's Office since December, authorities said during a press conference at the Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office in Bridgeton on Wednesday.
County residents can, with no questions asked, sell their firearms to authorities stationed at the Word of Life Christian Worship Center in Vineland, the Cornerstone Community Church in Millville and St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Bridgeton on June 7 and 8. Authorities will pay as much as $250 for a firearm, depending on the type. There is a limit of three firearms per person.
New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said the gun buy is being held in Cumberland County because law enforcement agencies there need help in getting firearms off the street and battling gun-related violence and crimes. Part of that involves gang-related activities, he said.
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said that while much of the county is rural, "we still have big-city problems."
There have been numerous incidents of gun violence in the county during the past several years, but especially in Bridgeton and Millville. Some of those incidents have resulted in fatalities.
The 2011 Uniform Crime Report compiled by the State Police shows that Bridgeton had a crime rate of 54.1 incidents per 1,000 residents. Millville's crime rate for that year was at 68 incidents per 1,000 residents. Both of those figures are among the highest rates in South Jersey for nonresort municipalities. The 2011 report is the latest available.
Officials with the Attorney General's Office said authorities spent about $1 million to buy more than 10,000 firearms during the past six cash-for-guns events. Those weapons included handguns, shotguns, automatic weapons, one rocket launcher and an elephant gun valued at about $20,000.
A two-day cash-for-guns program held in churches in Pleasantville and Atlantic City in Atlantic County in March resulted in the purchase of 2,061 weapons. More than 1,800 guns came through the Faith Baptist Church in Pleasantville.
The last gun buy in Cumberland County was held by the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office in 2010. That effort netted 128 weapons at locations in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland.
Authorities said they make every effort to return stolen guns to their lawful owners. All the other weapons are destroyed.
The money used to buy the weapons comes from funds seized by the state Division of Criminal Justice as a result of investigations into crimes such as narcotics dealing. The Prosecutor's Office will supply some of its own forfeiture money toward next month's gun buys.
Chiesa said the program uses churches because its make people more at ease than showing up a police station or other government office.
"If I put a sign outside the Attorney General's Office that said 'cash for guns,' I'm sure nobody would show up," he said.
The Rev. Ellen Rutherford, pastor at St. Andrew's, said she is not worried about holding the event at her church.
"I'm honored," Rutherford said. "It's a great opportunity to be doing something good for the city and the neighborhood."
Priscilla McCoy said her husband, Baron, is pastor of the Word of Life Christian Worship Center and a member of the Vineland Police Department. She said that provides them with a unique perspective on the gun-purchase program.
"We know the importance these events have in getting guns off the streets," she said.
Chiesa said he knows the gun-purchase programs are not the "single, standalone answer to society's complex gun violence program."
"But this much is irrefutable - a gun that no longer exists can't ever be used to kill or maim someone," he said. "It's that simple."
Authorities said they will announce the results of their gun buy June 11.
Contact Thomas Barlas:
Cumberland County cash-for-guns program
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. June 7-8.
WHERE: St. Andrews's Episcopal Church, 186 E. Commerce St., Bridgeton; Cornerstone Community Church, 1200 N. High St., Millville; Word of Life Christian Worship Center, 425 N. Sixth St., Vineland.
WHAT TO EXPECT: Law enforcement officers will be at each location to buy and secure firearms from Cumberland County residents. Authorities will pay as much as $250 for a firearm, depending on the type of firearm. There is a three-weapon-per-person limit. County residents can sell the weapons with no questions asked.
INFORMATION: Contact the state Attorney General's Office Citizen Services Unit at 609-984-5828 or www.nj.gov/guns. Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae is available to speak with organizations about the program. She can be reached at 856-453-0486, ext. 3106.