MALONE — Franklin County approved a voluntary gun buyback program Thursday to remove assault rifles and other potentially deadly weapons from circulation.
Legislators granted District Attorney Derek Champagne’s request for $5,000 to initiate the program that will take possession of weapons from willing residents “with no prosecution and no questions asked.”
Each person who brings in a gun, knife or other weapon will be paid a small fee on a sliding scale, depending on the item turned in.
Weapons will not be accepted at the DA’s Office or police stations for fear that some people would be afraid they would be prosecuted for a crime as they hand over firearms.
The turn-in sites will likely be at fire departments or other neutral places around the county because “we want people to feel comfortable,” the DA said.
He said the idea is not a knee-jerk reaction to the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people, including 20 children, dead, and also the shooter.
But tragedies like this, he said, bring the issue to the forefront of people’s minds and may prompt them to dispose of weapons they’ve had in their house but were unsure what to do with them, such as when a permitted gun owner dies.
Champagne said having guns in closets and other rooms around a home makes them available to a curious child, as a potentially stolen item in a burglary or left for an unstable person to find and use.
He didn’t have the money in his own budget to fund the program at first but said he would seek federal-grant money in the future if the buyback is successful.
Champagne believes in the idea so much that he spoke to his wife, Jennifer, about using their own money to finance the gun buys until a new source was found, he said.
The discussion also turned to a possible return of resource officers in Franklin County schools to enhance security for students and staff, but that expense would be funded by each district.
School security is under review overall to identify and correct flaws and ensure needed tools are in place in case of an emergency.
Last week’s deadly attack prompted officials to make safety a high priority in classrooms.
And schematic drawings of the layout of each school in Franklin County will be updated and available for law enforcement, which would likely be the first responders to a situation, said Champagne.
He said State Police began visiting schools on Monday to do a walk through to identify potential weaknesses that have to be addressed.
“This is also being done by Border Patrol because they would likely be the first responders to Chateaugay and Salmon River,” he said.
The DA said his office is also studying how to link each school’s security cameras to the enhanced 911 dispatch center in Malone, since it is from there that law enforcement and rescue personnel would be called out in the event of a disaster.
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