Legislation addresses gun buyback problem

A quirk in state law needs fixing so that Baton Rouge can continue, legally, a popular gun buyback program.

House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs approved without objection legislation that would authorize the program in Baton Rouge and in any parish or municipality that wants to hold a similar, no-questions-asked effort to get guns off the street.

House Bill 272, sponsored by state Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, goes to the full House for consideration.

Mark Dumaine, an assistant district attorney for the 19th Judicial District, said how lawmakers dealt with the population decline in New Orleans had the unintended consequence of removing Baton Rouge’s legal authority to hold the popular “Gas for Guns” buyback events.

Traditionally, Dumaine explained, state laws would use population as a way to identify which cities or parishes were impacted.

As Baton Rouge’s population grew, it started being included in definitions that had been for New Orleans only.

After the 2005 hurricanes, New Orleans population decreased dramatically, prompting the Legislature to pass bills that changed definitions from using the number of people to the name of the municipality.

In 2011, the statute that allowed New Orleans and Baton Rouge to conduct gun buybacks was changed from population to city name. Unfortunately, lawmakers amended the law to include New Orleans, by name but forgot Baton Rouge, Dumaine said.

Baton Rouge participated in a gun buyback program in 2010 and 2011 called “Gas for Guns,” in which people turn over weapons in exchange for gas cards ranging from $50 to $300 from Circle K.

The program gathered guns at local churches, and no questions were asked about the person who came into possession of the firearms.

East Baton Rouge Parish law enforcement collected 557 guns, including nine stolen firearms and 20 assault weapons, Dumaine said.

The program cost about $32,000 over the two years, and the money was contributed by various law enforcement agencies, using money from forfeitures and a grant from Circle K.

If approved by the Legislature and signed into law, all of Louisiana’s parishes and municipalities would be able to create gun buyback programs that allow people to exchange weapons for gift certificates or other compensation.

Dumaine said East Baton Rouge Parish would hold gun buyback program as soon as the governor signs the bill into law.