Saturday, Sept. 21, at the Julia Carson Government Center, a group of Indianapolis police officers and volunteers from Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence take refuge in the shade of trees or vans. This is one of four sites in the Day Without Weapons gun buyback program, where people can turn in unwanted handguns for $20, no questions asked. The people arriving to drop off weapons drive through a series of cones up to the Indianapolis Police Department officers, handing over the guns without ever leaving their cars. Around the other side they meet with HCGV volunteers, who provide them with $20, a coupon for Domino"s Pizza and educational information.
Heading up IPD"s side of the program is Officer Ben Hunter, who was in charge of the overall drive in 2001. This year, Hoosiers Concerned About Gun Violence are heading up the drive itself, in cooperation with WISH-TV, IPD, Clarian Health and the Marion County Health Department. The Health Department also handed out trigger locks.
This is the third such event in four years; the 1999 drive brought in 215 guns, while the 2001 drive netted 382.
With the previous day"s tornado and the lack of media coverage - Hunter and HCGV filmed a public service announcement, which didn"t get much play in the disaster coverage - the turnout is much lower.
"This year it wasn"t so great," Hunter says. "But obviously, we"ll take them any time. The Indianapolis Police Force will always take unwanted weapons off peoples" hands. We don"t want them lying around where a child might find them and accidentally get hurt."
After the pickup, Hunter says, the guns will go through limited testing, then are melted down. The process includes ballistics testing to determine if they"ve been used in a homicide - "It"s still anonymous; we won"t be able to trace back where the weapon came from, but at least we"ll have it recovered." The serial numbers are checked to see if the guns are stolen. If so, they"ll be returned to the rightful owners. They get a few like this; of the 382 guns turned in during last year"s drive, four were stolen.
So far, none of the weapons turned into IPD have ever been traced back to a homicide.
"My understanding, nationally, is that"s not a trend," Hunter says. "Criminals generally want to keep their guns. I"m under no illusions that any criminals are getting rid of their guns today Ö Overall, this is about awareness of gun violence and the effect it has, and the fact that Indiana ranks among the highest in gun fatalities across the Midwest."
By the end of the day the final count is 11 handguns and three long rifles. Across the city, at all four sites, it"s 50.
Robin Olds, executive director for HCGV, says that even though 50 is far fewer than they were counting on, it"s still a step in the proper direction.
"If a person gets killed by one gun, it costs $38,000 for the doctors and police work involved," Olds said. "So even one gun makes a difference."