MALONE - Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne plans to run a gun buy-back program in the wake of last week's school shooting in Connecticut.
Champagne told county legislators at their Thursday meeting that he doesn't want to have knee-jerk reactions to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 students and seven adults were murdered, but he does want to do what he can to prevent such an incident in Franklin County.
Champagne said he plans to meet with all the local schools, like he did with one Thursday morning, and talk about things like response times, training and how they work with local law enforcement.
He also wants to work on getting schools' camera systems linked up with the county's 911 dispatch center so that, if there ever is an emergency, people in the 911 building can bring up what the cameras record and see what's going on.
In addition, he wants to try a gun buy-back program, something Franklin County has never tried before.
"Because of the current climate, now is the time to strike," Champagne said.
He said he's spoken with several people since the Sandy Hook shootings who want to get rid of assault rifles. He wants people like that to be able to give the county their guns, which would be destroyed, with full amnesty - no questions asked - and give some cash in return.
Champagne said there are plenty of people who have inherited guns in an attic or closet who would generally rather leave them there than deal with the hassle of finding out whether the weapon is legal or not, and if it is, what to do with it. It's times like this when those people are willing to do something with their weapons to stop children or people with mental illnesses from accessing them.
"I think now's the time," Champagne said. "We may have a chance to get them off the street in the next couple of weeks."
Legislators pledged $5,000 in contingency funds to the program.
"Of course we have to do everything we can to try and protect the people," said board Chairman Gordon Crossman, a retired educator, who held a moment of silence at the meeting in honor of the victims at Sandy Hook.
Champagne said if there's so much interest that the program has to pay out more than $5,000, he'll figure out some way to fund it. He said he's already talked to his wife about how he wants to cut a check himself if it comes to that. He said he'll see if he can find other sources of funding, too, but he wanted access to money so he can start the program before the memory of last week's shootings fade from people's minds.
Legislators noted this would be a voluntary program and would not amount to gun control.
"It has nothing to do gun control," Champagne said.
Champagne said he's already contacted district attorneys in Albany and Kings counties to find out how their programs work, and he'll use those models to create his own.
The buy-backs will probably take place at scheduled times at each town's firehouse. Champagne said he doesn't want them to be at his office or local police departments so people won't get worried they'll be charged with something.
"We want people to absolutely feel comfortable," he said.
He said the county would likely offer more money for assault weapons than other guns.