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Former Senator Leonard Santucci: Island must try gun buy back scheme

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The state of New Jersey has well-publicised problems with gangs and guns and one Bermudian has been doing his part to try to solve them.

The Rev Leonard Santucci, pastor of St Paul AME Church in East Orange, was involved in a gun buy back programme, which resulted in the recovery of almost 1,000 guns in just a couple of days.

The scheme saw prosecutors in Essex County join forces with churches of various denominations to encourage those with guns to turn them in.

Dr Santucci said: “They were offering people money for turning in the guns. It was also a gun amnesty in that people were permitted to carry those firearms to the designated churches.

“The churches, in cooperation with the police and the prosecutors’ department, used bank cards. Instead of people getting cash, they got a debit card to the value of a certain amount. Over a two-day period, we got almost 1,000 guns.”

The clergyman said each returned gun got its owner a debit card worth about $100.

“It was an incentive and what we were seeking to do was make our community a safer community,” said Dr Santucci.

“We had some women in their 80s turning in guns that they have held for 20 years or more. Some people inherit firearms that they don’t want.”

The former Bermuda College professor and United Bermuda Party senator, who moved to the United States in 2005, said there had been many tragic gun deaths in the municipalities of Essex County.

“A perfect example? Someone was cleaning their gun in their apartment and the gun inadvertently discharged.

“The bullet went through the ceiling of their apartment and shot and killed a person lying in their bed [above]. The victim had not done anything to anybody. They weren’t even out of their bed.”

Dr Santucci said of the gun buy back initiative: “The contention is the less firearms there are in circulation, the safer the community is.”

He added: “The same applies in Bermuda. We need to look at what we need to do to remove the firearms.”

He said other counties in New Jersey had replicated the programme and suggested Bermuda should do the same.

“I believe in the context of Bermuda that the prosecutors’ office, with the police department, working with churches, could do something similar.

“I did recommend it as much as two years ago. The objective is not to reward crime.

“The objective is to remove guns from the hands of people who may perpetrate crime.”

He added: “There are two things that apply here. Number one is the amnesty. It’s illegal to have a firearm in your possession in Bermuda so the amnesty for getting rid of it is incentive number one.

“The $100 debit card is incentive number two. Making the community a safer place should be an incentive as well.”

National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief proposed a gun buy back programme earlier this year, but the idea met with much criticism.

It’s since been decided that Crime Stoppers Bermuda will instead run a Money for Guns campaign, offering substantial rewards for information leading to the recovery of firearms.

The campaign launched on August 29, to tie in with the start of

The Royal Gazette’s series focusing on gang murders.

Dr Santucci, who was the founding deputy chairman of Crime Stoppers Bermuda, said he hoped the idea of a church and state-run scheme hadn’t been totally rejected.

He suggested a church in each parish should be chosen to receive the guns.

“People ought to be able to bring their firearms to the appropriate church. It shouldn’t require ID.

“It’s not about criminal background checks. There is no paperwork involved.”

He said gun crime was still a problem in Essex County but the programme had removed a significant number of firearms from the streets.

Dr Santucci said Bermuda needed to stand up and speak out against the “injustices” being perpetrated by those in possession of guns.

“We need to take back our society. I have always supported that. The challenge that the judiciary has is that they need eyewitnesses in order to prosecute.

“I think people have to reach a point where they say ‘enough is enough, I’m not going to take it any more’.

“I believe that if parents and grandparents know that their children or grandchildren has firearms, they need to use [a buy back scheme] as an opportunity to get rid of them.

“I think parents need to draw a line in the sand and make abundantly clear what they will allow in their house. I’m 47 years old; I’m still afraid to do certain things in my momma’s house.

“I believe people need to take control of their situations. Until they do, all of this will run rampant in the streets.”

Rev Leonard Santucci

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Published September 19, 2011 at 10:21 am (Updated September 19, 2011 at 10:21 am)

Former Senator Leonard Santucci: Island must try gun buy back scheme

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