A group of Silicon Valley residents is sponsoring a gun-buyback event for Palo Alto, Menlo Park and East Palo Alto on Saturday, Feb. 23 -- the first buyback in Palo Alto history, according to a police spokesman.
The Menlo Park-based nonprofit organization Protect Our Children Bay Area Inc. has so far raised $30,000 for the February event, which will trade cash for firearms -- no questions asked, said James Cook, the group's outreach coordinator.
The nonprofit's objective is to get guns off the streets and out of homes. It was started by Silicon Valley investor Roger Lee and aims to raise a total of $50,000 for the event. With that amount of money, it could bring in 700 to 800 firearms, based on other similarly funded buyback programs, they said.
Cook and Lee, who have children in Palo Alto elementary schools, said in phone interviews on Wednesday that they were deeply affected by the shootings of primary-school children in Newtown, Conn. The men decided a gun-buyback program that is robustly funded could entice more people to give up firearms, they said.
Lee said he initially sought to help Newtown itself after the massacre but struggled with how to make that happen.
"I decided the best way to honor their memory is to try to make sure something like this doesn't happen again," he said.
He decided to act locally, since the likelihood of legislators enacting meaningful legislation quickly is not high, he said.
But gun buybacks have proven popular when there has been enough cash as an incentive, and in the aftermath of Newtown they have been even more effective, Lee said. A recent program in San Mateo netted about 700 firearms, including 24 assault rifles; an earlier buyback in Marin brought in 800 guns within four to five hours, he said.
Lee said he and Cook will be measuring the efficacy of the program. Three Stanford University graduate students from the law and economics schools will gather data on gun-related crimes of all kinds before and after the buyback to see if it made an impact, Lee said.
He also hopes to have other buyback programs for the three cities if the February event is successful. The program they put together could ultimately be shared with organizations around the country, he said.
Already, the idea is catching on. Lee has received inquiries from places as far away as New York, Connecticut and Texas, he said.
"The long-term vision is to have the programs run on a systematic basis in communities all around the country," he said.
Cook, a former U.S. Marine who is trained in safe handling of firearms, said he has been struck by how many people don't have the training to handle firearms safely.
"I liked the idea, beyond the obvious reasons," said Cook, who is also the chairman of the Palo Alto Utilities Advisory Commission. "The three communities are so interrelated. The buyback program provides an opportunity to work collaboratively."
The group is also promoting gun safety through the cities' police departments, city councils, Parent Teacher Associations and Palo Alto Unified School District, Cook said. He also plans to work with the newly founded residents group Silicon Valley Community Against Gun Violence.
"All of these groups working together are bound to have some success," he said.
Palo Alto Police Department spokesman Lt. Zach Perron said his department is looking forward to the event.
"We're excited to work collaboratively with our partners in the East Palo Alto and Menlo Park police departments and also with Protect Our Children, Inc.," Perron said.
The buyback will be held at East Palo Alto's City Hall, 2415 University Ave., but the time has not yet been set, Cook said. People will be able to turn in the guns anonymously, regardless of the firearm's history.
Unlike other buybacks, the program will give cash instead of gift cards in exchange for the weapons. To get more powerful weapons off the street, the compensation will be based on the firepower and danger of the gun. Hypothetically, a small-caliber handgun with a small magazine might fetch $100, for example, while a high-powered assault weapon with a large magazine would garner more -- perhaps $200 or $250, Cook said.
The group hopes the removal of guns from the public will help curb accidental shootings, suicides and homicides, especially in homes, he said.
"There are so many different stories out there of many people who have guns and don't want them anymore, such as a grandparent who doesn't want a gun around for the grandkids to get into," he said.