By Deacon Tom Picciano
Sun Contributing Writer
JOHNSON CITY — Flower plants were lined up behind the rectory at St. James on Saturday, May 14. The plants were given away as part of the third annual Flowers for Guns Day put on by the parish’s Peace and Justice Committee.
Only two people came in during the first hour in a light rainfall. One man tossed a plastic bag with about a half dozen shotgun shells on the table. A few minutes later, an elderly man drove up, and opened his trunk to reveal a rifle and ammunition.
Deputy Brian Curtis of the Broome County Sheriff’s Department checked to see that the gun was unloaded. He then took the rifle and put it in the back of a locked pickup truck. A couple of years ago, a woman brought a fully loaded .45 caliber handgun to the event.
“It’s scary to see somebody bring something in their purse and they tell you it’s not loaded and you take a look at it and it’s fully loaded and ready to go. It just shows the understanding that’s out there for people who have guns,” Curtis said.
At the end of the day, a total of four handguns and four long guns were turned in. Fifteen others brought ammunition. Deputy Curtis brought the firearms and ammunition back to the sheriff’s department to be inventoried. The serial numbers are logged from the guns. They also run a weapons check to see if they are stolen. “If they’re all clear, they’re not wanted somewhere, there’s no stolen gun report out there for them, we destroy them,” Curtis said.
“This is good to get guns that are laying around people’s houses,” he added. “They’re just old. They have no idea about firearms they’ve been passed down from generation to generation and it’s good to get them out of the house especially if no one is educated in firearms.”
Curtis said it’s also good to get unused ammunition out of homes because it can deteriorate over time. How the ammunition is stored determines how stable it is. “If you throw it in your household trashcan and the garbage man gets it and he runs it through the compactor, there’s a chance that it can go off and hurt the employee,” Curtis said. “And you also don’t want it in the landfill.”
The first two years of the gun drop-off were more successful according to Jack Gilroy, co-chair of the St. James Peace and Justice Committee. The first year, when they offered food gift cards in exchange for weapons and ammunition, they had a big line of people waiting. They took in 53 firearms before they ran out of $7,000 in gift cards. Last year, when they gave out flowers, people brought 12 rifles, six handguns and assorted ammunition.
“We look at the handgun primarily as an instrument to kill people. There are some who say they like it for target practice. Target practice very often are human forms … like I used to see in the army.” Gilroy said.
Others, he said, use handguns to hunt. “There are a few out there who say, ‘Oh, we do,’ but I was a hunter once myself and I know that’s baloney. You don’t [hunt with a handgun] just as you don’t hunt with an AK-47 or a semi-automatic or automatic weapons. They’re not what it’s all about. It’s about people in opposition to people. So in Peace and Justice our whole concept is non-violence in the culture,” Gilroy said.
“Guns are sometimes used in a fit of passion. It’s an easy way for individuals to end an argument — a violent way,” Gilroy said. “It happens each day, every hour throughout the U.S. They’re also in homes and subject to accidents with people, children primarily, but other people as well who don’t know guns. There are a fair number of widows who all of a sudden have guns and don’t know what to do with them.”
Gilroy said there are a lot of guns and ammunition still left over from World War II. He said if there’s primer still in the projectile, and a child hits it with a hammer, it could be deadly.
When the Flowers for Guns event is over and the destruction of the firearms is scheduled, Peace and Justice Committee members go to watch the guns be crushed at a landfill. Gilroy noted that it’s a symbolic gesture. “But even the sheriff of Broome County, David Harder, says any guns that are out of the household and off the streets, that’s good as far as they’re concerned,” Gilroy said.
He said they’ll hold a similar event next year. But instead of Flowers for Guns, they hope to have enough money to give away grocery gift cards again and bring in more unwanted firearms and ammunition.