Hartford area hospitals see hundreds of children each year arriving at emergency rooms with gunshot wounds, according to pediatric surgeon Brendan Campbell.
Campbell spoke about gun violence at a press event Wednesday to announce Hartford’s second annual Gun Buyback Program, designed to reduce violent crimes and preventable injuries by exchanging guns for department store gift cards.
Last year’s gun buyback resulted in Connecticut residents turning over 78 firearms, most of them hand guns, according to Assistant Hartford Police Chief Brian J. Heavren, who said he is anticipating a higher turn out this year as word of the program spreads.
Though the program aims to reduce all types of gun-related injuries, the press conference, held at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center in Hartford, focused on the potential hazards unsafe gun ownership poses in households with young children.
Campbell recalled one incident about a year ago, when a Jewett City toddler arrived at a hospital with a gunshot wound through the head. The child had a heartbeat when he was admitted, but doctors were not able to save him.
“There was nothing we could do to make that better,” Campbell recalled after the press conference. “It was a non-survivable injury. And those are the types of risks we want parents to recognize if they have a loaded accessible gun in their home.”
Many of the gun-related injuries doctors see in children aren’t deadly and don’t necessarily make the newspapers, he said. Some suffer wounds to the feet or toes, sometimes bullet graze the necks of children who ultimately survive the incidents but Campbell said people need to understand the destructive power of the weapons.
About a third of the homes in the U.S. have firearms, he said, around 20 percent of which are stored unsafely and are potentially accessibly to children.
The program hopes to drive home the message that, if you have a gun and don’t feel you need it, do not keep it in your home. Instead, turn it over and receive a gift card that could put an extra present under the tree this holiday season.
The buyback will be held on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Community Renewal Team building at 555 Windsor St. Anyone who turns in a rifle will receive a $25 gift card. Pistols and revolvers will be exchanged for $75 gift cards.
Similar programs in other cities initially offered money in exchange for guns but found people would often turn in junk guns and use the money to buy newer firearms or drugs, Campbell said. Hartford modeled its program after one used in the city of Worcester run by Dr. Michael Hirsh, Campbell said.
Heavren said all the guns collected will have their serial numbers run to determine if they had previously been used in a crime, otherwise they will be destroyed. All of the 78 weapons collected last year were found to have been obtained legally and not connected to any crime, he said.
Hartford’s buyback is sponsored by the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney, the city of Hartford, the Hartford Police Department, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Hartford Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center.