The West Hartford Police Department wants to be sure residents who own guns are exercising proper safety measures. The department also wants to be sure residents know that they can turn in unwanted firearms at any time.
A news release was issued on Thursday describing the West Hartford Police Department's "Lock It or Leave It" firearms safety and disposal program, but Community Relations Officer Lt. Frank Fallon said the programs have actually been in place for years.
"Pre-Newtown, this wasn't a conversation we would have been having," Fallon said on Thursday. He has been with the West Hartford Police for more than 17 years, and said that residents have always been able to turn in unwanted firearms.
Although Fallon said that throughout the country violent crime has decreased in the past 10 years, tragic events like the Newtown shooting brings guns into the forefront of the discussion.
The "Lock It" portion of the initiative refers to gun locks. They are available free of charge at the police department, 24 hours a day. "If you posses a firearm, it should be properly secured at all times; it’s the law!" states the news release.
"Leave It" refers to the disposal of unwanted firearms. These items can be dropped off at the West Hartford Police Department headquarters at 103 Raymond Rd., or residents can even call the department at 860-523-5203 to arrange for an officer to come to a home to pick up firearms.
The release states that "firearms brought to the police department should be transported unloaded and in a safe condition. Residents who do not have a valid Connecticut Pistol Permit should not transport pistols or revolvers. If you are unsure, an officer will come to your home or business and pick up the firearm."
In either case, the resident will receive a receipt with a case number indicating that the firearm was turned in, and the gun will be destroyed. There is no cost to the resident for this service.
Fallon said this isn't a new program; it's "standard operating procedure."
Some major cities have instituted gun buy-back programs, where individuals are paid for turning in firearms, but West Hartford has never had that type of program although the town did participate in a state-run "Guns for Goods" program more than a decade ago, Fallon said.
According to Fallon, there have been "countless" numbers of firearms turned in over the years, but he said most are "relics" – and many are non-functional. At times the department has received newer, fully-functional handguns and rifles, but most of what they see are "antiques in very poor condition."
Fallon said that he doesn't recall anyone ever turning in an assault weapon.
Connecticut Gun Laws
In addition to issuing a release about firearms safety and disposal, Fallon and West Hartford Police Chief Tracey Gove gave a presentation to town department managers on Wednesday about the state's gun laws.
The presentation was part of the regularly scheduled inter-department education planned by Town Manager Ron Van Winkle, but Fallon said it was very timely. Connecticut's gun laws are extremely complex, and following the Newtown incident have been a topic of extensive discussion in the community.
The State of Connecticut's guide to firearms law is a 92-page document, and those seeking clarification of statutes can research them through the Connecticut Law Library website.
One important point noted by Fallon: "The Connecticut pistol permit law does not speak to concealed or unconcealed weapons." He said that Connecticut is technically an "open carry" state.
Although businesses and governmental entities can prohibit firearms from their premises, those rules have to be posted. "If you carry on full display, you are not breaking any laws. This issue has been under debate for years," said Fallon.
It was the subject of a major gun control-related legal battle several years ago, when James Goldberg was arrested for openly displaying a gun at a Chili's Restaurant in Glastonbury.
The ambiguity in the law does not prohibit the police from making a lawful request that someone put a gun away if it is causing a disturbance in the community, Fallon said.
Although there are not any establishments that sell firearms in West Hartford, many residents do have pistol permits. In the presentation to department managers, Gove said that the following are the approximate number of pistol permits issued to residents over the past several years:
Mental health records are now able to accessed as part of the permit approval process, Fallon said, but that is a relatively recent development.
In terms of reducing violence, Fallon said, "Firearms can be part of the discussion, but there are many other aspects of society that need to be talked about also."
"It's not just gun violence; there's violence in the community. People need to learn how to resolve things without violence."