The Buffalo News is quite sensible about illegal gun crime in Buffalo. Gun buybacks don't cut it.
More effective is tough enforcement of laws against illegal gun possession, and aggressive searching for such weapons. Buffalo was one of 15 cities nationwide to launch a program last spring to get illegal guns off the streets. Buffalo police have confiscated 998 guns so far this year. That effort is much better targeted on the kinds of guns that need to be taken off the streets. Mayor Byron W. Brown and District Attorney Frank J. Clark now have added a no-plea-bargain policy, which will have even more impact because of a new mandatory minimum sentence for illegal gun possession.
The house next door is one of those "neighborhood problems." It's been owned over the years by a succession of slumlords who only rent to responsible tenants as often as I win the Lottery. I particularly remember an incident with one of them on a hot summer evening a few years ago. I was on the front porch when the 14 or 15 year old son of my latest in a never-ending series of neighbors struck up a conversation from the sidewalk with me.
It was clear that he was high on something and, during our rather innocuous and uncomfortable chat, casually pulled a handgun out of his pocket and displayed it in his palm. Now, I only knew the kid in passing and why he was showing it to me I have no idea. Was he showing off, perhaps trying to impress me by showing how "grown-up" he was or was he trying to intimidate me?
I kept calm, for all I knew he was going to shoot me (blood pressure went way up,) and decided quickly that this was probably not the time for a lecture. I acknowledged that I'd seen it, he put it back in his pocket and eventually ambled away when a buddy showed up. I staggered inside for a gin and tonic.
Now, I'm sort of ashamed that I didn't alert the police (I did later tell his mother for what that was worth) but I'm still not sure what the cops would have or could have done. In Buffalo, they're so overworked what with breaking up domestic disputes, street-corner fights, burglaries and outright murders, that a call to 911 that a kid has a gun would probably fall far down the priority list on a hot Saturday night. And I didn't even know his name.
Nonetheless, that incident's always stuck with me; and it chills me to this day to know that children are wandering around the streets of Buffalo with handguns in their pockets. And that reality won't be fixed by gun buybacks or by passing more gun-control laws. It can only be changed by ensuring that children like my former neighbor are raised in responsible households -- and we're not ready yet as a society to make sure that happens.