Semi-automatic AR-15's at Good Guys Guns & Range in Orem, Utah, on February 15, 2018.

In the wake of another school shooting, some gun owners giving up guns

Until last week, Cindy Wright never thought of herself as an assault-style rifle owner.

The Peachtree Corners resident said she doesn’t shoot any of the five guns she owns, and in fact, doesn’t know much about guns at all. She does happen to be the daughter of an avid hunter, though, and when her father died, he left her more than just a menagerie of stuffed trophies: she now owns two shotguns, two antique guns and a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle.

Ever since a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Wright’s semi-automatic rifle has become a thorn in her side. The Ruger fires the same kind of bullets as an AR-15, she said—the same gun that was used in Parkland shooting and countless others. Now, the only thing she wants to do with her rifle is see it destroyed.

“I don’t think there’s any reason in the world why anyone needs an assault weapon,” she said. “I want to make sure mine can never be used.”

While some gun owners say the solution to preventing school shootings is more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens, others — like Wright —are taking steps to make sure their firearms don’t fall into the wrong hands. She is one of many gun owners nationwide who are trying to take gun control into their own hands by voluntarily turning in their weapons.

One week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the idea of arming teachers to keep students safe is being talked about across the country.

Google searches for terms like “gun buyback” and “get rid of guns” have spiked since the shooting, reaching their highest levels since October 2017, when a gunman in Las Vegas opened fire at a concert and killed 58 people.

Many law enforcement agencies offer programs for people to turn in unwanted guns or ammunition with no questions asked. A Facebook post written by a Florida man who did just that with his AR-57 has been shared more than 200,000 times since it was posted Feb. 16.

“No one without a law enforcement badge needs this rifle,” the man, Ben Dickmann, wrote in the post. “This rifle is not a ‘tool’ I have use for. A tool, by definition makes a job/work easier. Any ‘job’ I can think of legally needing doing can be done better by a different firearm.”

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But Wright said that while she’d be happy to recycle her guns the same way she does paint cans and electronics, she fears a Georgia law prohibiting agencies from destroying confiscated weapons may mean her guns will be resold if she turns them over to police.

According to the Gwinnett County Police Department, though, that law doesn’t apply to weapons turned in voluntarily. Michele Pihera, a spokeswoman for the department, said her agency will accept and destroy any unwanted gun at the owner’s request.

“All the owner (of the weapon) needs to do is have an officer respond to their location, take the firearm, and generate a police report with instructions to destroy the firearm,” Pihera wrote in an email. “Once the Evidence Unit obtains a copy of the report with the instructions, it will be destroyed.”

Some agencies host “gun buyback” events aimed at reducing the number of guns on the streets by paying gun owners to turn in their weapons. These kind of events have become more popular since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2011, though their effectiveness is debated.

A group of organizations, including the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office and the Atlanta Police Department, hosted a buyback event last year. Tracy Flannagan, spokeswoman for the Fulton County sheriff, said those guns were destroyed and “a collection of the best ones were turned into art.”

But even while stories of people giving up their guns are circulating on social media under the hashtags #oneless and #outofcirculation, others argue that making guns unavailable for use isn’t the solution to mass shootings like the one in Parkland.

Don Simpson, chair of the Georgia chapter of Friends of the NRA, said the real concern is the gun wielder, not the gun.

“A gun is an inanimate mechanical device,” Simpson wrote in an email to the AJC. “I stress inanimate. The problem is the individual holding the gun.”

Simpson said when mass shootings happen and law enforcement agencies don’t respond fast enough, a citizen carrying a gun may make the difference between life and death

“The answer [to gun violence] is not reducing the number of guns or placing more restrictions on law abiding citizens,” he wrote. “Law abiding citizens are first responders.”

Wright isn’t convinced, though. She says she’s not anti-gun—her husband is a juvenile court judge who carries a handgun, and her son shoots for sport—but she has a problem with the availability of assault weapons, and she has a clear vision of what she wants to see done with them.

“I would love to see parking lots across Atlanta full of people bringing guns to be destroyed,” she said.

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