Butler High School Classes Resume Hours After Student Shoots Classmate To Death

A high school in Matthews, North Carolina, resumed classes on Monday just hours after one student shot and killed another on campus ― a disturbing indication of just how common gun violence has become in the United States.

Butler High School, roughly 12 miles southeast of Charlotte, went into lockdown around 7 a.m. Monday after a student fired a gun at another student during a disagreement in a hallway.

The victim was transported to a hospital, where he later died of his injuries, officials said. The suspect was taken into custody and questioned by police. Authorities have not released the names of the students.

By 9:30 a.m., Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced that the lockdown had been lifted. Parents were allowed to pick up their children, but for the remaining students, classes resumed as normal, the school district tweeted.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Face It, The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Wasn’t An Aberration

I understand what Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf was trying to do with his statement immediately following Saturday’s mass murder at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. When he said, “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans,” he was saying that this horrific event ― a hate-fueled massacre of innocents in an American house of worship ― does not reflect our national character. And I get it. It’s gut-churning to think what happened there is a reflection of all of us, as opposed to the work of a lone, depraved actor.

But here’s the problem: It is who we are. Or, at least, a large part of who we are.

Now, I’m not saying every American is a gun-toting mass killer who spews anti-Semitic hatred online. But, as soothing as it is to think of the events in Pittsburgh as something outside of our national identity, this simply isn’t true. Gov. Wolf’s line, which he repeated in a press conference, is a statement of fantasy, not fact.

As soothing as it is to think of the events in Pittsburgh as something outside of our national identity, this simply isn’t true.

This attack was fueled by religious prejudice. And we are a nation with hate and prejudice encoded in its DNA. If you don’t believe me, read about the three-fifths clause of the Constitution, or the slaves who helped build the White House and U.S. Capitol. Study virtually anything about this nation’s treatment of Native Americans. Brush up on the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment or anti-LGBTQ+ violence. Go to the newly opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which honors “thousands of racial terror lynching victims in the United States,” or read about the spike in anti-Semitic incidents in recent years, including a swastika painted on a sign at a temple in Rhode Island just a few miles from where I live. This is who we are.

We are also a nation that glorifies guns. Today, there are more than 390 million civilian-owned firearms in the U.S., which, as The Washington Post recently noted, is “enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over.” America is a land of gun festivals and gun museums and gun-toting church services and phones that look like guns and guns that look like phones. We are a country where politicians fire guns in campaign ads and presidential candidates tweet photos of guns etched with their name, along with the simple caption: “America.” Our largest and most outspoken pro-gun organization has its own TV network. In 2016, 37,000 people died in this country from gun violence, second in the world behind Brazil. This is who we are.

Our gun obsession and refusal to significantly regulate firearms have led ― predictably, you might say ― to a string of mass shootings in almost every conceivable public place: nightclubs, elementary schools, high schools, community colleges, state universities, military bases, supermarkets, airports, nursing homes, Planned Parenthood clinics, cafes, IHOPs, Waffle Houses, coffee shops, malls and hotels. According to Mother Jones, There have been more than 100 of these events (indiscriminate rampages in public places resulting in four or more victims) since 1982, and Saturday’s attack wasn’t the first mass shooting at a religious site in recent memory. Think of the 2012 attack at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, or Charleston in 2015, or Sutherland Springs, Texas, where, less than a year ago, 26 people lost their lives in a Baptist Church.

The Pittsburgh shooting wasn’t even the only act of hate-fueled violence last week. On Friday, the FBI arrested a suspect in a hate-fueled mail bombing campaign targeting CNN and anti-Trump political figures, including two former presidents. The shooting of two African Americans by a white man in a Kentucky supermarket earlier in the week is now being investigated as a hate crime, which, if true, would make it part of a rising trend of hate crimes. This is who we are.

Again, I’m not saying that all of us are hateful and violent, or that American history is filled solely with scenes of hate-fueled horror. (Although there sure are a lot of them.)  But I am ― emphatically ― saying that, in October of 2018, when a public official responds to a hate-fueled mass shooting by denying its place in our society, it defies reality. Too many people have been lost to similar acts to keep saying that; it dishonors their memory to ignore glaringly visible patterns. We need to be honest, even when it makes us uncomfortable. We are long past the time for platitudes.

And I don’t mean to pick on Gov. Wolf, because the problem is much bigger than him. We boast about our freedom while locking people up at a higher rate than any other country. We talk about our superior quality of life while we face more than a trillion dollars in student debt, stagnant wages, and dropping life expectancy. One of our most highly paid media personalities apparently just learned that it’s not OK to wear blackface on Halloween. We excel at delusional self-flattery.

But it’s time to stop.

Hatred and violence and firearms are deeply embedded in our national psyche. For the sake of you, me, and everyone else in this country, I wish this weren’t true ― but that’s different from saying it isn’t true. If we truly want to become the country Gov. Wolf describes, we first need to face reality: This is who we are.

Philip Eil is a freelance journalist based in Providence, Rhode Island.

Emanuel AME Pastor Slams Trump’s Response To Synagogue Attack: ‘Words Do Matter’

The pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine worshippers were gunned down in 2015, condemned President Donald Trump’s response to the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday.

“Words do matter,” the Rev. Eric S.C. Manning told his congregants during an emotional sermon on Sunday. “The words that come out of your mouth can do much harm or much good. The choice is indeed yours.”

Manning criticized Trump for claiming “armed guards” likely could have prevented a gunman’s attack on the Tree of Life Congregation, which left at least 11 people dead and several others wounded.

He contrasted Trump’s remarks to former President Barack Obama’s response to the 2015 mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church (commonly referred to as Mother Emanuel).

“We were comforted by President Barack Obama, who came and sang ‘Amazing Grace,’” Manning said. “He began to use the eloquence of his speech to provide comfort at a time in which we all needed much comfort.”

But Manning said he was baffled Saturday as he watched Trump’s respond to the shooting in Pittsburgh, one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in U.S. history.

“I was becoming more outraged and outraged,” Manning said, “because as opposed to saying, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with them, and violence has no place in the United States, and hateful speech will no longer be tolerated,’ there was a meltdown on his part, saying maybe just maybe if they were armed we wouldn’t have had this problem. Words do matter.”

Manning called on Trump to use his words to heal people ― and also encouraged members of his church to get out and vote if they want to see change.

“The tongue has the power of life and death,” Manning said. “Sometimes we don’t think that other people are paying attention, but they are indeed paying attention. They hear exactly what you’re saying and sometimes people unfortunately utter certain thoughtless phrases that instead of lifting up a certain people, they begin to rally around a dog whistle.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who was in office during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, also said a few words during Sunday’s service at Mother Emanuel.

“I suppose that Mother Emanuel might be feeling a special weight this morning after the tragedy and the violence in Pittsburgh yesterday, and how it must bring back the tragedy and violence in this community and in this sacred place,” Patrick said.

He continued: “There’s been so much poison, so much poison, so much hate … but I also know what you know ― that we don’t have to sow just hate, that we can also sow grace. … I know that we can sow better seeds in our politics.”

Eric Trump Says Harsh Political Rhetoric ‘Might’ Be Linked To Violence

Eric Trump conceded to Fox News host Jeanine Pirro on Saturday that harsh political rhetoric “might” be linked to recent violence, including the shooting death of 11 people in an apparent anti-Semitic attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue earlier — or it “might not.”

“Listen,” he noted, “America mourns, right?”  

Pirro quizzed President Donald Trump’s second son on both the synagogue shooting and the pipe bombs mailed earlier in the week to Democratic political figures and other targets of his father. The man arrested for the pipe bombs, Cesar Sayoc, was living in a van plastered with photos of the president and images of his targets with gunsight crosshairs over their faces.

“As we look at the news of the past week” and the violence … “is this a sign of the rhetoric and the outrage people are hearing? Is there any correlation between the two?” Pirro asked.

“Listen, there might be, and there might not be,” said Eric Trump. “At the end of the day, this is a very sick, sick, deranged human … subhuman,” he added, referring to suspected synagogue shooter Robert Bowers. Trump complained that “it seems like we’ve gotten to a place in life and society where everything has to be kind of politicized … Somebody has to point a political finger at absolutely everything. At the end of the day this is a sick, sick, sick person.”

He hit all of his dad’s earlier talking points about the synagogue attack, calling the gunman a “wack job” who “should absolutely get the death penalty,” and he gave what he called a “major shout-out” to law enforcement.

Check it out in the interview above.

Twitter Melts Down After Trump Says Synagogue Needed An Armed Guard

Gun control “had little to do” with an armed attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday that killed 11 people, insisted President Donald Trump. But the death toll would have been much lower had the synagogue hired an armed guard, he claimed.

If the Tree of Life synagogue had an “armed guard inside … they would have been able to stop them,” Trump told reporters. “Maybe there would have been nobody killed except for him,” he added, referring to suspected gunman Robert Bowers. The gunman was armed with an assault rifle and handguns, according to police.

Twitter comments slammed Trump for blaming the synagogue for failing to have a guard, and pointed out that four of the six people people wounded in the attack were police officers, all armed. They scorched him for his outright refusal to consider how gun laws effect gun violence in America, and for his apparent aim to put even more guns in people’s hands.

But what drove Twitter users particularly bonkers was the idea of armed guards in places of worship.

Dems Speak Out Against Gun Violence, Hate Crimes In Aftermath Of Pittsburgh Shooting

Former President Barack Obama and a handful of other prominent Democrats condemned gun violence and hate crimes on Saturday after 11 people were killed and others were wounded in a shooting at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synagogue.

Suspected gunman Robert Bowers, 46, is accused of opening fire inside of the crowded Tree of Life synagogue. Officials said Bowers announced his presence to the congregation by shouting, “All Jews must die,” before the attack. Bowers is facing 29 charges.

“All of us have to fight the rise of anti-Semitism and hateful rhetoric against those who look, love, or pray differently,” Obama wrote on Twitter. “And we have to stop making it so easy for those who want to harm the innocent to get their hands on a gun.”

Strong statements from politicians flooded social media in the hours after the shooting, which Bob Jones, the FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh field office, called “the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) echoed Obama’s calls for gun reform.

“I don’t want to arm synagogues and churches and schools,” he tweeted. “I want to live in a society where nazism and white supremacy crawls back in a hole and we have universal background checks.”

“We need more than thoughts and prayers-we need action to stop these senseless deaths from gun violence,” added Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) on Twitter.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called out “opponents of common-sense gun safety.” 

“We need to get assault weapons off the streets and out of the hands of those who would do us harm,” he wrote on Twitter.

Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also issued statements on Twitter.

“We can and must put a stop to this violence and this hate,” Hillary Clinton wrote. “It should have no home in America.”

“We must all send an unequivocal message that the violence and hatred that has been unleashed and fanned across America will not be tolerated,” Bill Clinton tweeted. “It won’t end until we stop it.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender, said that “hate is on the march in America.”

He ended the statement with a slight jab at President Donald Trump.   

“Words matter,” Biden wrote in the statement. “And silence is complicity.”

President Donald Trump also condemned the apparent anti-Semitic attack on the synagogue on Saturday.

“This evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us. It’s an assault on humanity,” he said. “It will require all of us working together to extract the hateful poison of anti-Semitism from our world.”

However, the president did not call for gun control. Instead, he encouraged a revival of the death penalty for the shooter, whom he called a “wacko.”

Some argue Trump’s rhetoric has fueled hatred. Earlier this week, suspicious packages and pipe bombs were mailed to several of the president’s favorite targets, including Obama, the Clintons, George Soros and Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), whom Trump has often criticized or mocked.

The suspect linked to the mailings had a van covered in pro-Trump images and messages.

In a statement Saturday afternoon, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Department of Justice “will continue to support our state and local partners and we will continue to bring the full force of the law against anyone who would violate the civil rights of the American people.”

Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Suspect Charged With 29 Counts

Federal prosecutors filed 29 charges on Saturday evening against the man suspected of fatally shooting at least 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The suspect, 46-year-old Robert Bowers, allegedly opened fire Saturday morning at the Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Congregation. 

Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich told reporters late Saturday afternoon that no children died in the shooting. Six people were reportedly injured, four of them police officers.  

A news conference to discuss the charges is scheduled for Sunday morning, The Associated Press reported.

Bob Jones, FBI special agent in charge of the Pittsburgh field office, said he believed the suspect was wielding an “assault rifle” and also had at least three handguns with him. 

“This is the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” he said.

Hissrich made similar comments at an earlier press conference that day.

“It’s a very horrific crime scene,” Hissrich said at an earlier press conference. “It’s one of the worst that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen some plane crashes. It’s very bad.”

Law enforcement responded to reports of an active shooter at the synagogue, which was crowded for Saturday services in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, shortly before 10 a.m. Police sources told KDKA that a gunman walked into the synagogue and yelled, “All Jews must die,” before opening fire.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Department of Justice plans to charge the suspect with hate crimes, along with other criminal charges.

The Tree of Life Or L'Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh.


Yahoo News Photo Staff

The Tree of Life Or L’Simcha Congregation in Pittsburgh.

Congregation member Zachary Weiss, 26, told HuffPost that his father, Stephen Weiss, had been filling in on Saturday for a sick rabbi.

“Anytime a congregant passes away you lose a friend,” said Weiss, noting that his father was unharmed. “The city is coming together and right now that is all we can do.”

Multiple victims were being treated by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, spokeswoman Amy Charley said in a statement on Saturday afternoon.

“At this time, UPMC Presbyterian is treating four patients from the Tree of Life synagogue shooting,” she said. “Three victims are in surgery and one other is stable, awaiting surgery. Another patient at UPMC Presbyterian was treated and released. UPMC Mercy is treating a patient who is currently in surgery.”

Police and medical personnel gather on the side of Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh


ASSOCIATED PRESS

Police and medical personnel gather on the side of Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh

Jeff Finkelstein of the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh told WHNT that he estimated between 60 and 100 people were inside the building when the shooting occurred. The synagogue had a Torah study and Shabbat services scheduled for Saturday, and a bris ― a Jewish ceremony in which an infant boy is circumcised ― was reportedly also taking place.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement calling for action to prevent future mass shootings.

“We must all pray and hope for no more loss of life. But we have been saying ‘this one is too many’ for far too long. Dangerous weapons are putting our citizens in harm’s way,” Wolf said.

“And in the aftermath of this tragedy, we must come together and take action to prevent these tragedies in the future. We cannot accept this violence as normal.”

From left, Kate Rothstein looks on as Tammy Hepps hugs Simone Rothstein, 16, on the intersection of Shady Avenue and Northumb


ASSOCIATED PRESS

From left, Kate Rothstein looks on as Tammy Hepps hugs Simone Rothstein, 16, on the intersection of Shady Avenue and Northumberland Street after multiple people were shot at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue.

The Tree of Life Congregation, founded more than 150 years ago, merged with Or L’Simcha in 2010 to form Tree of Life Or L’Simcha, according to its website. The synagogue describes itself as a Conservative Jewish congregation ― “Conservative” referring to a denomination of Judaism unrelated to political leanings. The site states that the synagogue is “true to traditional teachings while being “progressive and relevant to the way we live today.”

Rabbi Emeritus Alvin Berkun, who was not in the building at the time, told ABC News that the Squirrel Hill neighborhood hosts a number of other synagogues, along with Jewish gift shops and bookstores and kosher bakeries.

“Absolutely no crime, it’s an amazing neighborhood, it’s hard to believe it’s a city neighborhood,” he said.

The shooting took place on International Religious Freedom Day, the day that commemorates former President Bill Clinton signing the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which aimed to promote religious freedom through U.S. foreign policy.

Both New York City and Los Angeles confirmed that they were increasing security measures as a precaution in response to the Pittsburgh incident.

The New York Police Department told HuffPost it would be “deploying heavy weapons teams” at “houses of worship” across the city as a precaution in response to the Pittsburgh incident. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted that the LAPD would also be stepping up security.

HuffPost reporter Saba Hamedy contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Fox News Mistakenly Shows Sen. Kamala Harris In Alert About Shooting Suspect, Apologizes

Fox News messed up majorly during a Tuesday morning broadcast, showing images of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during an alert about a shooting suspect and registered sex offender at the University of Utah.

The network later aired a correction and an apology.

The initial report concerned a student shot dead outside a dorm at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. As host Jillian Mele mentioned the suspect ― Melvin Rowland, a registered sex offender believed to be the victim’s ex-boyfriend ― images of Harris appeared on screen instead.

About 45 minutes later, Fox News corrected its error and aired the alert again, this time with an image of Rowland.

“Now in an earlier version of this story, we showed you the wrong video,” Mele said. “We showed you pictures of Senator Kamala Harris instead of Melvin Rowland’s mug shot. We apologize for that error.”

The error did not go unnoticed on social media:

Emotional PSA About Gun Violence Pushes Young Voters To Take Action

Young dancers place the dangers of gun violence center stage in a powerful new PSA.

Gun safety groups Everytown for Gun Safety and Students Demand Action for Gun Sense in America released a video entitled “Enough!” Monday that features kids and teens from the National Dance Institute trying to cope with the fear and frequency of mass school shootings.

The four-minute clip backed by Sia’s new song “I’m Still Here” was released two weeks before the midterm elections in hopes of inspiring young voters to take action and cast a ballot on Nov. 6.

The video starts with a grade school boy approaching a voter registration sign-up table at school and receiving a balloon. He pops it. The noise resembling a gunshot unleashes widespread panic among his peers as kids attempt to dance away their trauma.

Though the music video, created by dancers Ezra Hurwitz and Robert Fairchild, begins on a somber note, it ends with an uplifting message.

“With this dance-driven anthem, we wanted to provide an opportunity for these young artists to express themselves beyond the ability of their words, and contribute to a public discourse that is painfully relevant to their generation,” Hurwitz said in a press release. “This world is too often divided by words; we hope the movement of these children will uplift, inspire and motivate beyond any rhetoric.”

Everytown for Gun Safety backed up that sentiment on Facebook, saying the video sends “a clear message: we must all take action to end gun violence.”

Everytown for Gun Safety is a nonprofit organization formed in 2014 that includes the groups Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. According to the advocacy group, there have been at least 72 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2018 alone. The group helped organize March for Our Lives events throughout the country in March.

See the full PSA in the video above.

It’s Way Too Hard To Dispose Of Unwanted Guns In The U.S.

To hear it from pro-gun groups, the bond between Americans and their firearms is nothing short of sacrosanct. Slogans like “from my cold, dead hands,” “come and take it,” or the more recently resurrected “molon labe” ― ancient Greek for “come and take it” ― have become popular identifiers on one side of the culture war over firearms in America. Those mottos may be helpful in understanding a certain type of gun owner, but they also belie a more diverse portrait of firearm ownership in the U.S.

In truth, there are untold people around the country who cling to their guns only because they feel they have no other choice.

We’ve heard from dozens of those individuals over the past year ― gun owners who wanted to get rid of firearms, but couldn’t find an acceptable way to do it. Earlier this month, we published a piece detailing a few of their experiences navigating the cultural and logistical barriers to gun disposal. That story prompted dozens more people to reach out.

They include longtime gun owners and firearm enthusiasts who said they’d had a change of heart. Many were people who’d inherited guns ― sometimes lots of them ― but never really wanted them or knew what to do with them. Some said they’d be willing to sell their firearms. But most said they’d prefer to see their guns destroyed, as it would be the only way to ensure they’d never be used for harm. Almost everyone we spoke to agreed that it should be much easier to dispose of unwanted firearms.

Without a uniform process to end the life cycle of guns in the U.S., the stockpile of civilian-held firearms has surged to 393 million weapons, according to an estimate published in June. Many of those guns are in the hands of responsible owners, who use them only as intended and store them securely to prevent theft or other unauthorized use. But many are not, said Ian Johnstone, founder of Gun by Gun, a nonprofit that organizes buybacks for firearms.

“There’s an all-time high number of guns circulating in the U.S., which is always at an all-time high,” Johnstone said. “It’s creating a situation where there are a lot of guns that aren’t necessarily wanted that pose a threat to all of us and there isn’t a good way to get rid of them.”

We don’t have much comprehensive national data on firearms, so it’s not clear exactly how much of a hazard those guns pose to public safety. We do know that gun thefts are relatively common. In the four-year period from 2012 to 2015, an estimated 1.2 million guns were stolen in the U.S., according to a Federal Bureau of Investigation report. Many of those firearms are taken from homes or vehicles, where they may be stored unsecured. Stolen guns often end up being used in shootings and other crimes. 

We feel that there needs to be a junkyard in America for firearms, and we are that junkyard.
Chip Ayers, National Center for Unwanted Firearms

Unwanted guns can also do damage when they remain in the home, because their owners may be less likely to keep a close eye on them, said David Chipman, senior policy adviser at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and former special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“For people who don’t know about guns to have guns in their home is a recipe for accidents,” Chipman said. “If you have a box of old photos that you don’t know what to do with in your attic, they’re not going to hurt anyone. But if you have a box of guns, that’s not the same.”

The current options for disposing of firearms are limited. The most obvious route may be for gun owners to simply do it themselves. It’s possible to disable a firearm by melting or shredding it, or cutting the receiver of the weapon following Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives guidelines. But that requires equipment, as well as some basic gun and machining knowledge.

One metal recycling executive who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash reached out to say that some auto shredder facilities are happy to destroy firearms and turn the resulting components into recyclable scrap.

People have also asked why gun owners couldn’t just toss their unwanted firearms into a lake, or disassemble the guns and dispose of the parts in separate trash bins.

Those DIY methods might serve their intended purpose, but gun owners told us they’d prefer a more formal process that could accommodate the destruction of multiple guns at once and give them official confirmation that their firearms have been decommissioned.

Johnstone’s Gun by Gun group is working to expand the firearm disposal process by organizing buybacks, events typically hosted by police departments, charities or other non-governmental groups, which offer modest compensation for surrendered weapons.

Gun by Gun partners with a law enforcement agency and raises money through crowdfunding to help provide incentives for buybacks. They collect survey data from participants at each site and use it to inform future events.

“Ultimately, we still need comprehensive reform in our federal gun policy, but in the meantime, we can help lead with community-led, community-funded gun buybacks and create this approach where people can demonstrate their value, rally together, become engaged and mobilized, and make a tangible impact on gun violence in their cities,” Johnstone said.

Dr. Mike Hirsh, a pediatric surgeon and cofounder of the Goods for Guns coalition, has run a number of buybacks in Pittsburgh and Massachusetts. He said they’ve turned up “significant” semi-automatic rifles as well as handguns, which account for the vast majority of gun violence. Hirsh pushed back on criticism of buybacks, which opponents say do little to drive down crime.

“We’ve never claimed to be a crime-buster program, we are looking at ourselves as an injury reduction and education program,” he said. “The low-hanging fruit of what we’re trying to prevent are suicides, kid accidental shootings, the rise in breaking and entering that we’ve seen unfortunately as a consequence of the opioid crisis where this is a very liquid form of exchange: You steal a gun and you can get drugs very easily.”

An electromagnet is used to pick up some of approximately 3,500 confiscated guns to be melted down at Gerdau Steel Mill on Ju


David McNew via Getty Images

An electromagnet is used to pick up some of approximately 3,500 confiscated guns to be melted down at Gerdau Steel Mill on July 19, 2018 in Rancho Cucamonga, California. The weapons were seized in criminal investigations, probation seizures and gun buyback events, and will be recycled into steel rebar for the construction of highways and bridges. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Even if police don’t host buybacks, some departments do allow residents to turn in their firearms, though there’s little consistency in how they accept weapons or what they do with them after they’re surrendered.

Some departments accept guns no questions asked, while others check to make sure that they were legally owned and hadn’t been involved in prior shootings. Some departments destroy surrendered firearms, but a number of states have passed laws prohibiting them from doing so. Agencies may end up re-selling these guns to the public or passing them off to officers for service or personal use. Department policies are rarely posted publicly, and many officers may not be familiar with their practices, so it can be difficult to figure out how to proceed.

The lack of resources for gun disposal led Chip Ayers and Bruce Seiler to launch the National Center for Unwanted Firearms in 2017. Both men come from lengthy careers in the U.S. Secret Service, and said they were concerned that many unwanted firearms were being sold in private transactions, which can be conducted without a background check under federal law and in most states. They want gun owners to have more choices for safely selling or disposing of firearms.

“We feel that there needs to be a junkyard in America for firearms, and we are that junkyard,” Seiler said.

Since its founding, the National Center for Unwanted Firearms has fielded 160 inquiries, said Ayers. Most have been from gun owners asking for the center’s help in brokering a sale to a federally licensed dealer, which must conduct a background check for every transaction. The center also contacts museums about historic firearms to see if they’re worth preserving, and will destroy any gun that isn’t. Beyond that, Seiler and Ayers say they advise clients on proper gun storage and handling, and walk them through the process of legally transferring firearms if they choose.

“There’s a lot of different moving parts and organizations and rules, federal, state and local, so we’re here to assist with the process in any shape and form,” Seiler said.

Artists have also stepped up to help take unwanted guns permanently out of circulation. Earlier this year, we reported on Lead to Life, a project that repurposed firearms by melting them down and casting them into shovels that they used to plant trees and gardens in the Atlanta area. Other groups like RAWtools, Inc. have also gotten behind this modern day swords-to-plowshares movement, working to help communities reduce gun violence by encouraging people to disarm and have their firearms transformed into tools.

Together, all of these options provide only a loose patchwork system for gun disposal in the U.S. To Hirsh, the surgeon and buyback proponent, there needs to be a much larger, more coordinated effort to serve people who want to get rid of firearms. In 2017, he helped organize the first National Gun Buyback Day, which featured events around New England and in San Francisco. Hirsh says they’re set to expand this year, with a date tentatively set for Dec. 15.

Ultimately, Hirsh said he’d like to see at least one buyback in every state, in a nationwide effort that he compared to the federally sponsored prescription drug take back day.

“We’re not confiscating. It’s not mandatory. It just gives people the opportunity and the agency to say, ‘I don’t want that gun anymore,’” Hirsh said.

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