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December 18, 2012

School tragedy moves violence-prone city to initiate gun-buyback program

LAWRENCE, Mass. — The mayor of this violence-plagued immigrant city north of Boston has announced plans for a gun-buyback program in the aftermath of the Connecticut elementary school massacre.

Mayor William Lantigua, whose small city has averaged 10 murders a year, said he was shaken by the slaughter of 20 small children and six adults at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn., four days ago by a gunman randomly firing a semi-automatic assault rifle.

"What happened in Newtown is more than a reason to join us in recovering weapons so that in a moment of passion, grief or anger, people don't commit such a heinous crime," said Lantigua. "We have to find a solution to prevent this tragedy from happening again. Whatever I can offer, I'm more than ready to do so."

Langtigua and Police Chief John Romero did not know how many guns are possessed by Lawrence residents, but gun violence is common in the blue-collar city of 76,000 that has been battling drug problems for years.

Federal officials estimate that firearms are in one-third of American households, and that 310 million guns are owned legally or illegally in the country.

Langtigua said the buy-back program would offer a cash payment for each weapon turned over to police. He said no questions would be asked of persons turning in the guns.

He said the aim is to get guns off the street as quickly as possible. He said some critics will object on the ground that illegal possessions could go unprosecuted.

"Sometimes we don't catch the criminal and don't have the gun," he said. "But with this, at least we'd get the gun and it will not be used again."

The mayor's announcement was made during a prayer vigil at city hall for the victims of the Conneticut school shootings.

Josue Barrera, a fourth-grader at the Frost Elementary School who attended the vigil, expressed his feelings this way: "I felt sad because their mothers will miss them and Christmas is coming and they're not going to get any presents. I know they're in heaven because they were good kids."

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Details for this story were provided by The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

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