Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) and Councilman John Courage (D9) co-signed a request Tuesday that could lead to the City of San Antonio’s first gun buyback program. They suggested the police department take in guns in exchange for cash or gift cards, but Police Chief William McManus called such programs “ineffective.”

The request came in response to gun violence and recent mass shootings in Texas and the U.S. Earlier this month, City Council signed a resolution to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to enhance gun rules and look for local solutions to address gun violence.

At a press conference announcing the Council Consideration Request (CCR), Courage said the buyback program would help keep guns from falling into the hands of people with psychological problems or of children.

“There are simply more weapons out there than people need for their personal protection or for hunting or for target shooting,” Courage said. “… Those are the ones that we want to try and get off the street.”

However, McManus told the Rivard Report later that he is opposed to the idea.

“They have not proven effective and they are very expensive and resource-intensive to conduct,” he said of buyback programs.

Courage said he would like to see a minimum of $250,000 dedicated to the program, but that funding should be based on a percentage of the City’s confiscated property fund. Money and revenue from the sale of property seized by the SAPD can only be used for public safety enhancements. The City anticipates collecting $3.8 million in confiscated property next year, according to the proposed 2020 budget.

The request must first be considered by a Council committee – likely the Public Safety or Governance committees – before it would go before the full Council for a vote. If it’s well-received, it could take months before the program is fully vetted by SAPD, staff, and the community.

“We are not asking anyone to give up their Second Amendment rights,” Andrews-Sullivan said, adding that she is a licensed gun owner.

Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2)

She recounted that her then-husband threatened her and her child with a gun she owned before he shot and killed himself.

The guns collected could be melted down and used to create a sculpture to memorialize victims of gun violence, she said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he supported exploring a local gun buyback program.

“Although we know gun buyback programs are not a complete solution, any reduction in the number of guns in circulation is an improvement,” he said.

Residents who turned in guns would be able to do so anonymously. If a gun is reported stolen, it would be returned to its rightful owner, Courage said, and other logistical details – when, were, and how the program would operate – would be worked out through a public process.

McManus has run similar buyback programs in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis and said the guns turned in are typically not weapons that police want off the streets. They’re typically old, non-functioning, low-caliber guns and “not the guns that are being used in a drive-by” shooting, he said.

Studies of similar programs in 1994 and 1998 in Seattle and Sacramento back that up – and those cities did not see a decrease in gun violence.

McManus also took issue with allowing those who turn in guns to do it anonymously, and noted potential costs in terms of staffing and labor associated with what the Council members propose.

“Those guns have to be cataloged, they have to be forensically tested, and if it’s a gun that was used in a murder and we let [someone] walk – that’s a problem,” he said.

McManus said granting anonymity or even amnesty to anyone who drops off a gun likely would have to be worked out with the District Attorney’s office.

Courage said studies of gun buyback programs are outdated and need to be updated in the new era of mass shootings. San Antonio’s program could focus on high-caliber weapons and offer gift cards in lieu of cash to ensure that money doesn’t go towards another gun, which happened in Baltimore last year.

“This isn’t necessarily saying, ‘We’re trying to end crime,'” Courage said. “It may not reduce crime … but it could save lives within people’s homes.”

He cited the Los Angeles buyback program that, according to that city’s police department, has contributed to a reduction in shooting victims.

Although Andrews-Sullivan said McManus was “very open” to the idea of a gun buyback program, the chief said later he was unaware council members were planning to submit a CCR.

Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8), who recently hosted a town hall discussion on gun violence, said he saw potential promise in a gun buyback program, but was skeptical about such a program reducing crime.

“I’m interested in learning more about the impact a gun buyback program would have on suicides and deaths due to accidental discharge of weapons,” Pelaez said via text. “However, I very much doubt that it’ll have an impact on intentional gun-related crimes. It would be naive to believe that criminals intent on hurting people would be lining up to sell their guns.”

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D6), who also attended the press conference, said she supported the request, calling it “one of our first initiatives from this Council that has to do with a tangible way to reduce gun violence.”

Such a program also could tie into the City’s ongoing focus on reducing domestic violence, said Sandoval, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

“It’s evident that men who end up on rampant shootings usually have a history of domestic violence,” she said.

But the program likely won’t collect guns owned by domestic abusers, McManus said.

“I think that there are better ways that you can go about reducing gun violence,” he said.

San Antonio Police Chief William McManus
San Antonio Police Chief William McManus

For instance, once someone is convicted of domestic violence, they are asked to surrender their guns, he said.

“There’s no real way to enforce it,” he said. “It’s essentially done on an honor system.”

Often, law enforcement isn’t aware that a convicted domestic abuser has a gun unless it’s involved in the initial crime, he said. Because of the Fourth Amendment – protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, the police cannot enter a home and take guns without cause.

“That’s the gap right there,” McManus said.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...