Summit County is planning a gun buyback event to try to curb gun violence in the community.
The details of the event, including the date, haven’t been set, but County Council on Aug. 29 passed a resolution creating the voluntary Summit County Gun Buyback and Safety Training Initiative.
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office will facilitate the gun buyback event, spending up to $55,000 from the county’s general fund on gift cards (to be exchanged for guns), gun locks, educational materials (including legal updates on new laws and gun safety and suicide prevention information), advertising and other related event expenses.
Summit County Sheriff’s Office Inspector Bill Holland said that while the current program is still in the planning stages, in the past, the sheriff’s office has exchanged gift cards for Dick’s Sporting Goods and Acme Fresh Market in exchange for functional firearms.
“The goal is to take dangerous firearms off the streets,” he said.
Council members Veronica Sims (District 5), John Schmidt (District 2) and Erin Dickinson (at-large) helped create the initiative.
“We all know that there’s a problem with gun violence everywhere throughout the United States,” Schmidt said. “And as elected officials and public servants, we’d like to do something about that.”
“The voluntary gun buyback is a part of an overall gun safety initiative,” said Sims, saying that gun locks and safe storage are also vital components of gun safety. “Being able to educate people on safe storage and to distribute gun safety locks I think will give us some space for pause in some instances and could save a life.”
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CDC, NIH data on gun violence
According to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in June 2022, in 2020, 79% of all homicides and 53% of all suicides involved firearms. From 2019 to 2020, the firearm homicide rate increased about 35%, with the firearm homicide rate in 2020 the highest recorded in more than 25 years, the CDC said.
The largest increase in firearm homicides was among Black people (39%), and the largest increase in firearm suicides was among American Indian and Alaska Native people (42%), according to the CDC.
The CDC also found that in 2020, counties with the highest poverty level had firearm homicide rates 4.5 times as high and firearm suicide rates 1.3 times as high as counties with the lowest poverty level.
“Long-standing systemic inequities and structural racism limit economic and education opportunities. They contribute to unfair and avoidable health disparities among some racial and ethnic groups.” the CDC said. “Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the substantial increase in the firearm homicide rate, along with notable increases in firearm suicide rates for some groups, has widened racial, ethnic, and other disparities.”
The CDC noted that young people, men and Black people have the highest firearm homicide rates and experienced the largest increases in 2020.
The CDC said that the reasons for the increasing rates and widening disparities are likely complex, with multiple stressors associated with the COVID-19 pandemic that may have contributed to the increases, including changes and disruptions to services and education, mental stress, social isolation and economic stressors, including job loss, housing instability and difficulty covering daily expenses.
“Stopping firearm violence now and in the future requires a comprehensive prevention approach focused on reducing inequities,” the CDC said. “Strategies should address the underlying physical, social, economic, and structural conditions known to increase firearm homicide and suicide risks. Some prevention strategies will be more immediate, and others will have more long-term effects.”
One of the many strategies the CDC recommends is the promotion of safe storage practices.
According to a July 2022 report from the National Institutes of Health Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, in 2020, firearm-related injuries surpassed motor vehicle crashes to become the leading cause of death among people ages 1 to 19 years in the U.S., with firearm deaths among children and adolescents jumping nearly 30% between 2019 and 2020, more than double the 13.5% increase seen in the general population.
Dickinson said “there’s a lot we can do” to protect people’s constitutional rights “while also increasing safety around firearms.”
Dickinson, who is a longtime member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said that the group is “not against guns but for safe, responsible gun ownership.”
Dickinson also said there’s a “suicide crisis” in the U.S., particularly among veterans.
“As I’ve done this community work, one of the things that I learned was that suicide is a very fleeting impulse for most people, and even a matter of minutes can make somebody change their mind,” Dickinson said. “So if they don’t have such easy access to a firearm, they may change their mind…If people don’t have access to such an effective method of suicide, they will survive and continue to be with us.”
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Pat Krummrich of Jackson Township with Moms Demand Action praised County Council for the legislation, calling it “bipartisan” and “common sense.”
“Reducing gun violence certainly in Akron and Summit County and Canton, those are bipartisan goals,” she said.
Krummrich said she spent her career working as a medical feeding therapist at Akron Children’s Hospital and cared for children who had been shot, “and some of them were no longer able to eat.”
Krummrich said that Moms Demand Action works with both Republicans and Democrats and gun owners and non-gun owners.
“So often this conversation gets lost in the partisanship in our country, so we are all for doing things that can reduce gun violence, and we’re going to have to approach that on a multifaceted level and way,” Krummrich said. “There’s no one law or one program that’s going to fix that. But as members of Moms Demand Action, we are committed to following a number of paths to do whatever we can to bring down gun violence.”