By Samuel Rowland
Peekskill NAACP President Valerie Eaton is well aware of the correlation between the summer heat and potential violence.
“When the sun is out, the guns are out,” Eaton said.
That comment was a common theme in her conversations with Derek Wright, chair of the Peekskill NAACP’s Criminal Justice Committee and a retired New York City corrections captain. That is why Wright introduced the idea of a weapons buyback program at a monthly meeting of the organization’s executive committee.
A buyback, scheduled for this Saturday, June 26 from 12 to 2 p.m., will be held at 2 Stowe Rd., Suite #3, in Peekskill. Organizers will pay $25 for a butterfly knife or switchblade (only the latter is illegal to possess in New York State), $100 for a handgun of any caliber and $150 for an assault rifle.
Weapons that the public brings in will be turned over to the Peekskill Police Department. The department’s policy is to check any visible serial numbers on the guns against their records to make sure it was not stolen or connected to a criminal investigation, according to Peekskill Lt. Jack Galusha, a member of the department’s Detective Division.
All weapons that clear the inspection will then be destroyed. No identification will be asked for at the site and no recordings will be taken, though some prior buybacks have had a police presence.
Peekskill has conducted two successful gun buybacks in the past decade. The first was organized in 2013 by former councilman Darren Rigger. The second was three years ago by local real estate developer Louie Lanza and Councilwoman Kathleen Talbot.
“People die and people inherit these guns and don’t know what to do about them,” Rigger said. “You have to create some mechanism for people to get rid of unwanted guns but acknowledge that they have a little value. Otherwise, they’ll sell them online or in the black market.”
Rigger noted while those who use guns illegally are unlikely to relinquish their firearms, those individuals are not the target audience for gun buybacks. However, without an obvious option to get rid of unwanted guns, people will end up selling them person to person.
Private citizens who sell their guns also don’t have the ability to perform background checks and verify licensing.
Furthermore, improperly stored guns are a danger to children who could be injured or killed while playing with them.
Held at the United Methodist Church of Peekskill eight years ago, it was the first gun buyback event Rigger knew of in the Lower Hudson Valley. It was scheduled to run all day, but funds ran out in an hour. People who were on line waiting to turn over their guns had to be turned away.
“There was a line out the door, down the street,” Rigger recalled.
The 2018 event took in about 200 firearms, according to Galusha, before it ran through its money in about three hours. About $15,000 that was paid out that day was raised through a fundraiser organized by Lanza at his River Outpost Brewing Co. bar and microbrewery and $2,500 of that fund was raised by Ginsburg Development Companies.
Lanza retained a public relations professional to create the “Peaceskill” brand for the fundraising merchandise. That included a limited time “Peaceskill” IPA, which boasted that local police officers had directly participated in the brewing process.
Funds raised for the 2018 buyback, which also took place at the United Methodist Church, ended up allocated to a summer camp run by the Peekskill Police Department.
Eaton did not say how much money had been raised for the current buyback but noted that it was under $5,000.
“Success is depleting all the funds available to take weapons off the street, knowing we are much safer than we were before,” she said.