Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II, and Essex County Bar
Association President Raj Gadhok announce that the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office
and the Essex County Bar Foundation’s one-day gun buyback took out of circulation 332 guns,
ranging from assault weapons to pistols.
COURTESY ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR

By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
winters@montclairlocal.news

A one-day Essex County gun buyback program resulted in 332 guns being taken out of circulation, according to county law enforcement.

Authorities paid out $41,530 for all the guns, said Essex County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Katherine Carter.

“While a single gun buyback is not going to end violent crime, we believe this one-day effort was a tremendous success,’’ said acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II. “Guns that could have gotten into the wrong hands, potentially causing a tragedy, were brought in.”

The guns, ranging from assault weapons to pistols, will eventually be destroyed. The guns are not evaluated to determine if they have been used in a crime, said Carter.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 30, hundreds of people turned in guns at Bethany Baptist Church’s Fellowship Hall in Newark. No questions were asked of the people dropping off the weapons. Because the program allows for anonymity, the names and the towns of the gun owners are not not known. Those who turned in guns were paid up to $250 per gun.

Police officers from the Newark Police Department and detectives from the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office collected and secured the guns.

“For us to get 332 guns off the street means we just avoided 332 tragedies,” said Newark Public Safety Director Anthony F. Ambrose. “Every gun taken off the street is potentially one life saved.”

The gun buyback program is one of the first initiatives in New Jersey involving law enforcement and a private organization. Most of the money for the gun buyback was raised by the Essex County Bar Foundation, a private, nonprofit organization, and was the first gun buyback program in New Jersey to be funded by a private bar organization.

The cache of guns collected at the Gun Buy Back Program.

“We are so thankful for the support received from the Essex County Bar attorneys members and for the outstanding efforts of the law enforcement officers of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office and Newark Police Department,” said Essex County Bar Association president Raj Gadhok. “As attorneys, we are leaders in our communities and it is our obligation to make change when it is required. Whether it be gang violence, domestic violence, school violence — the list goes on and on — there is absolutely no place for the illegal use of guns on our streets and in our neighborhoods. I am confident that our work in taking 332 guns off the streets has and will save innocent lives.’’

Critics of the program say the guns handed over were older models that have most likely sat in someone’s attic for years, and that the guns were never in the hands of criminals.

The Newark Police Department and the Essex County Sheriff’s Office assisted by helping with the collection, valuation and disposal of the weapons.

In Montclair, assaults and robberies involving firearms have dropped in recent years, from 10 in 2016 to four in 2017 and five last year. Not all of 2018’s data was available on the uniform crime reports.

Last year, four people were arrested in Montclair for murder or attempted murders, and unlawful possession of a handgun.

In three out of every four search warrants issued through Montclair for drugs, guns are seized as well, said Sgt. Charles Cunningham, the head of Montclair Police’s narcotics department.

The last buyback program in New Jersey was in 2017 in Trenton, Camden and Newark, collecting 4,775 guns with a payout of $481,620.

A bill pending in both the house and the senate would require the Attorney General to establish a statewide gun buyback program and holding at least three buyback programs a year — one each in the northern, central and southern regions of the state. The bill provides for the gun buyback program to be funded by forfeiture funds received by the Attorney General as instrumentalities of crime, as well as private donations from corporations, small businesses and individuals.