SAN JOSE -- Two weeks after vowing to reduce gun violence in Santa Clara County, Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager on Wednesday announced the county will host an anonymous gun buyback program on March 2 as a way of enhancing public safety.
Funded with $160,000 from the county budget, including $10,000 from the District Attorney's office, the event will be held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, where handguns, shotguns, rifles and assault weapons will be collected from anyone in return for cash.
"An anonymous buyback program will allow anyone to turn in a firearm with no questions asked, getting unwanted, potentially dangerous weapons out of homes," Yeager said at a midmorning news conference.
"Even a gun that is never used, left dusty in the back of a closet, could accidentally fall into the hands of a child or be stolen by those intent on using that gun for crime."
The county will offer $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles and $200 for assault weapons. Yeager believes it will be the biggest such event in the Bay Area, which has recently seen such programs staged in San Francisco, Oakland, San Mateo and Marin County.
So many firearms were traded in for cash last month in Marin County that officials ran out of money and handed out vouchers instead. More than 800 guns were collected that day.
East Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Palo Alto police departments will host a joint event Feb. 23.
Yeager was joined Wednesday by Sheriff Laurie Smith, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, who co-chairs a gang prevention task force that seeks to prevent, intervene and suppress gangs.
Rosen, like others, cited the 26 children and adults killed on December 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as a grim reminder of the toll a gun in the wrong hands can take.
"There is a Sandy Hook every year in Santa Clara County," Rosen told reporters, ticking off 36 gun-related homicides in the county last year, and 37 the year before.
While those victims weren't gathered in classrooms, college campuses or movie theaters, where other mass slayings have occurred over the years, "our tragedies come annually, spread over time and places such as Gilroy, San Jose and Santa Clara; in bedrooms, streets, stores and parking lots." Maybe, Rosen said, it's less shocking that way, but "for too many of us, it's not shocking at all."
What, he asked, would have happened if there had not been a gun at hand?
Yeager said his proposal isn't a panacea for gun violence, but it's a start. In 2012, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner/Coroner's Office reported that firearms caused nearly 2 of 3 homicides. Guns were involved in 79 deaths last year; 41 were suicides.
"Every unwanted gun turned in is one less opportunity for a gun to fall into the wrong hands or be used for the wrong purposes, by the wrong people, either in a crime or by accident," said Yeager, who had outlined such a program in his Jan. 29 state of the county speech.
At the same occasion, he also discussed a state program that identifies registered gun owners who are now legally banned from possessing firearms because of felony convictions, restraining orders placed against them, or have been determined by a court to be a danger to themselves or others. The Sheriff's Department continues to work to get those owners to surrender their guns.
Yeager also noted that reducing the potential for gun-related injuries saves taxpayers money; he said the average cost of treating a gunshot wound at Valley Medical Center is at least $50,000.
"Gun violence is a complex and multifaceted problem," said Yeager. "We have to use all the tools at our disposal."
Contact Tracy Seipel at 408 275-0140.
What: Gun buyback event
When: Saturday, March 2
Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose.
Guns will be checked for lost or stolen status and if applicable will be returned to their rightful owners. All other guns will be disposed of or destroyed.
For more information: Go to www.sccgunbuyback.com or call 408-808-4401.