2A Coalition Sues Over Rhode Island Gun "Buyback"

I’ll admit, when I first saw the headline about the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition going to court to try to block a gun “buyback” event scheduled for this weekend in the cities of Providence and Central Falls, I didn’t think the groups would have much of a legal case. These compensated confiscation events don’t actually do anything to reduce violent crime, but they are voluntary, so it’s not like we’re talking about anyone’s rights being violated by handing over a gun in exchange for a gift card.

However, after reading a summary of the legal challenge, I think the pro-gun group may actually have a case.

Central Falls and Providence are offering $200 Visa gift cards for handguns, $100 gift cards for rifles and shotguns, and $500 if the firearms are stolen. The buyback is slated for Saturday morning at locations in both cities.

The fact the weapons would be destroyed after they are purchased is what prompted the request for an emergency temporary restraining order (TRO) from the Second Amendment Coalition.

The eight-count motion alleges the cities and their police departments would breach their duty to “protect the private property of all individuals” if they destroyed the weapons.

The motion also claims the defendants would be violating state law related to seized firearms and tampering with evidence.

“This court may not sanction nor allow an intentional violation of the law,” the motion states.

First of all, I’ve never heard of a “buyback” that specifically offered money for stolen firearms, and by offering more money for guns that have previously been reported stolen, I can’t help but think that officials in charge of the turn-in are actually encouraging the theft of a gun. It’s absolutely bizarre, but the Rhode Island Second Amendment Coalition is also spot on when they say that the destruction of any firearm reported stolen would be legally problematic.

If a stolen firearm is turned in to authorities, police should work to return the gun to its rightful owner instead of destroying it to use in an art project.

As it turns out, several city council members in Providence are also voicing their objections to this weekend’s “buyback,” though they seem less concerned about the prospect of melting down someone’s legally-owned firearm that was stolen and more concerned about the promise of amnesty for anyone turning in a gun that might have been stolen or used in a crime.

The Providence City Council passed a resolution Thursday night asking Mayor Jorge Elorza and Central Falls Mayor James Diossa to remove an amnesty promise for Saturday’s planned gun buyback, or else cancel the event.

The non-binding resolution passed despite having the support of just one-third of the council, due to an unusual number of abstentions.

Five councilors voted in favor of asking Elorza to amend or cancel the event, three were opposed, and four councilors abstained from the vote. Three members were absent from the meeting.

The resolution asks the two mayors to “remove any promises of amnesty from the Gun Buyback Program and allow their Police Departments to test all guns received through the program, and if that is not possible that they cancel the Gun Buyback Program altogether.”

One council member described her own objection to the gun turn-in event in very personal terms. More than a decade ago, Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune’s partner was shot and killed in New York City, and his death remains unsolved.

“We will never know if any of those guns returned were the ones used in his murder,” LaFortune said. “I understand the effort and the intention of a gun buyback; however, if we’re unable to trace back how these guns were used or if they were used in violent crimes, it doesn’t necessarily resolve the issue.”

She voted in favor of the resolution along with Councilors Helen Anthony, Sabina Matos, Carmen Castillo and David Salvatore.

The council members voting against the resolution spoke of their desire to see guns “taken off the streets,” but studies have shown no link between so-called buyback events and a reduction in violent crime, suicides, or accidents involving firearms. Ordinarily, the main benefit of a gun turn-in program is the positive press it generates for local politicians, but this time around I don’t think that the mayors of Providence and Central Falls can even expect that.

Unless the cities can guarantee that any stolen firearms received as part of the turn-in will be returned to their lawful owners, I think the judge overseeing the emergency hearing on the Second Amendment Coalition’s lawsuit needs to put a halt to the planned “buy back,” and the cities need to go back to the drawing board to come up with a better way to address the increase in violent crime than the empty promises of their compensated confiscation schemes.