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Commissioners Nix County Gun Buyback Program

Commissioners, instead, opted to form an anti-gun violence task force.

Despite an impassioned plea by Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner at Wednesday's commission meeting, fellow commissioners voted against instituting an annual gun buyback program for the county.

Instead, they opted to form an anti-gun violence task force to take a look at the overall problem. Commissioners didn't entirely dismiss Beckner's proposal, however. They said the task force may recommend a buyback program like the one proposed by Beckner.

Beckner's proposal comes in the wake of the mass shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

He said gun violence has become a public health and safety concern, claiming an average of 30,000 lives a year in the United States each year, or 85 deaths a day. In Hillsborough County last year, 124 people were killed by guns.

While he said he does not want to undermine anyone's constitutional right to own a gun, he believes a gun buyback program will make the streets of the county safer.

"Regularly scheduled gun buyback programs have shown to be effective in reducing many acts of gun violence over time," said Beckner. "Gun buyback programs are immediate, voluntary, popular market driven and effective."

He noted that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and city police departments periodically host gun buyback programs but feels it should be an annual program.

The proposal, however, drew opposition from a number of residents.

"A gun buyback program is not going to get thugs off streets," said gun owner Michelle Williams. "It’s not going to reach the people it needs to reach."

Brandon resident Terry Kemple agreed.

"In all of the information I’ve seen, mental health problems are the big concern," he said. "I don’t think we should be spending money on a gun buyback program. It hasn’t proven to work in other places it’s been tried. I encourage you to give this some serious thought."

"I don’t think a gun buyback program is one of the first priorities for local government," said Travis Horn. "You often see people turning in piecemeal and nonfunctioning firearms, so it doesn’t always have a practical impact in the community."

"I respect the intent," said John Melendez. "But what motivation does a disturbed individual have to sell a gun?"

Commissioners did approve Beckner's suggestion of creating an anti-gun violence task force composed of law enforcement officials, mental health professionals and educators to take an overall look at the problem of gun violence.

In the meantime, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is going ahead with plans to host a Feb. 2 gun buyback program, which was in the works before the Newtown shootings.

Residents will be able to trade handguns, rifles and other guns for gift cards.

A similar daylong program hosted by the Tampa Police Department last year got more than 1,000 guns off the streets. With all the attention gun violence has received in the past month, the sheriff's office is hoping for a bigger return.

Times and locations for the sheriff's Operation Gun Swap will be announced later this month.

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