As calls for gun control gather momentum in the wake of the Parkland school shooting, three San Carlos residents are attempting to make the Peninsula safer by reducing the number of guns in the community.
Danielle Lacampagne, Nilu Jenks and Becky Dodson formed the Citizens for a San Mateo County Gun Buyback organization to lobby cities across the county to contribute $5,000 to a gun buyback program, which was last held in San Mateo County in 2013.
“After Parkland, we felt we should do this,” Jenks said. “People are looking for something, and even one suicide or domestic homicide we can prevent is worth the effort or time.”
The group is calling for a similar program to the 2013 one, when the county paid $100 for pistols and rifles and $200 for assault-style weapons with no questions asked, bringing in more than 600 guns, according to a press release. A private donor contributed $63,000 to the 2013 buyback, but Jenks said funds ran out during the event, so this year the group is trying to raise at least $75,000.
So far, Redwood City and San Mateo have pledged $5,000 to the buyback, Jenks said, while Belmont’s City Council voted to contribute $5,000 and Woodside’s council voted to contribute $10,000. Woodside also voted to match another $5,000 donation if local students can raise the funds.
The most generous donor so far, the San Carlos City Council voted to match donations up to $50,000.
As of Wednesday, the buyback effort had raised $50,000. Daly City will fund its own buyback in May, Jenks said, and Portola Valley, Menlo Park and Foster City are set to vote on a donation within the next week.
Jenks also said private donors are starting to express interest as word gets out.
“We could not have forecasted this kind of support and we really appreciate it,” she said.
During Belmont’s Tuesday City Council meeting, Mayor Doug Kim said that city is also organizing a study session on school safety and mental health programs, and the council is drafting a resolution on public safety and gun violence in addition to contributing to the buyback effort.
“I think everyone in this room has felt a sense of frustration and helplessness over the past weeks, months and years,” Kim said. “I felt that this issue could not be ignored in a city like ours, we need to find what we can control within our purview and tonight is the first of several things that we as a small city on Peninsula can do to stand up and say here’s what we hold dear in terms of our values.”
Jenks said last month her organization approached San Mateo Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, who agreed to manage the buyback program and provide staff and security. The Sheriff’s Office will destroy all surrendered firearms.
Jenks said the buyback will likely be held May 5.
“This has very much been on our minds lately with the firearms store last fall,” San Carlos Councilman Mark Olbert said, referring to a moratorium on new stores that sell guns passed after a business received a permit to do so. “Many of the citizens pushing for this throughout the county are San Carlos residents so the council saw it as an important issue that a lot of people in our community are working towards. That’s something we want to support as much as possible, and we want to incentivize other communities to step forward.”
Despite its growing support, not everyone is on board with the program. San Carlos Councilman Matt Grocott, who voted against his city’s contribution to the buyback and the store moratorium, believes the money could be better spent on security efforts.
“I really question the claim that this (a buyback program) will make us any more safe in San Carlos, just look at the statistics,” Grocott said, adding that the last gun suicide in his city occurred in the 1980s and the last homicide was a knife attack more than 10 years ago. “So what it means is we’re putting up a $50,000 subsidy to parts of the county where gun violence is more prevalent.
“A lot of the guns that do get turned in are old and inoperable, basically scrap metal,” he added. “Someone could turn in two to three old, inoperable guns and turn around and buy something operable and you haven’t accomplished anything.”
But the San Carlos citizens group is determined to address gun violence and not just through a buyback. Jenks said her organization is also discussing future education and awareness efforts.
“Once we hit $75,000, we’ll really think about what’s next,” Jenks said.