Colt Szczygiel stands in front of Olmos Park City Hall.
The Council's Public Safety Committee is looking into incentivizing gun owners to anonymously give their guns to police and get them off the streets and out of the homes of potentially dangerous people. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

A San Antonio City Council committee initiated a process Wednesday that could lead to the City’s first gun buyback program.

The Council’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the idea in a future meeting after staff conducts preliminary research on similar programs across the United States and available funds. The general concept, pitched by Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) and Councilman John Courage (D9), is to incentivize gun owners – with cash or gift cards – to anonymously give their guns to police and get them off the streets and out of the homes of potentially dangerous people. It’s a response to increased gun violence – specifically mass shootings – in Texas and the United States.

From there, the committee — and ultimately the full Council — will sort through various “what if” scenarios to formulate program policies. What if, for example, a gun is not surrendered by the gun owner? What if that gun is connected to a serious crime? 

“We need more research to develop a process,” Courage said. “We don’t expect this to be something that’s done immediately.”

But San Antonio Police Department officials have serious doubts that the program is worth the investment. Courage proposed using about $250,000 in seized assets that SAPD collects through its criminal investigations.

The City anticipates collecting $3.8 million in confiscated property next year. That money can only be used for public safety enhancements. 

“[Gun buyback programs] have not proven effective and they are very expensive and resource-intensive to conduct,” Police Chief William McManus said in August after a press conference announcing the proposal. The guns collected are not typically the kind 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.

McManus, who has run similar gun buyback programs in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis, on Wednesday, declined to comment further. The Governance Committee, comprised of five Council members including Mayor Ron Nirenberg, unanimously agreed to explore the program.

There are limited actions City Council can take regarding guns outside State law, Nirenberg noted, and this program will not solve the underlying issues. But this could be “one small step … we hope to find others that we can take.”

The proposal is the first to come out of City Council since it signed a resolution last month to look for local solutions to address gun violence and urge Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session to enhance gun rules after deadly mass shootings in Texas.

Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) said she was supportive of the program but would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of it compared to funding other crime-prevention measures.

In addition to the gun buyback program, the committee considered three other council requests on Wednesday.

It directed City staff to form a stakeholder task force to consider Courage’s request for a revamp of the City’s noise ordinance as it pertains to construction noise. The Council’s Planning and Community Development Committee will review recommendations from that task force later this year.

A request from Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) to better integrate the Complete Street and Vision Zero policies into the City’s street construction process was forwarded to the Transporation and Mobility Committee for further discussion.  

Councilman Manny Pelaez’s (D8) request enhance security at apartment buildings near colleges also was considered. Many efforts to coordinate between universities and SAPD already are underway, Deputy City Manager Maria Villagómez said, and the City’s Development Services Department is looking into possible building code updates to increase security in that way.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org