EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Concerned over a recent spike in gun violence involving teens and young adults, the El Paso County commissioners have approved funds to start a gun buyback program.

The commissioners on Monday unanimously voted to use $300,000 of American Rescue Plan Act money to compensate with gift cards those who turn in guns at an Oct. 28 event at Ascarate Park and at future events. Sixty percent of the money will go to the acquisition of gift cards, with the rest paying for marketing of the event and staff overtime.

The program is modeled after a cog in the One Safe Houston crime reduction program in Harris County. That program sponsors gun buyback events with gift cards of $50 to $200, depending on the firearm. Houston has taken 4,000 guns off the streets since 2022 through that program. El Paso County officials did not say how much they’ll shell out for each gun yet.

“I think it is a great opportunity for us to curb some of those horrible tragedies that happened,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Sergio Coronado. “I can just speak of one […] Because of an unsafely stored gun, my client’s son’s girlfriend ended up dead because it was being handled by kids that were in high school. A little girl ended up dead without any (malice), it was just unsafe the way it was stored, the way it was handled.”

County senior policy adviser Jackie Arroyo-Butler on Monday showed commissioners a timeline of events leading to the proposal. The idea began brewing when the County Attorney’s Office reported a significant increase in violent juvenile offenses last summer. But the trigger was a shooting last February at Cielo Vista Mall where a 16-year-old boy fatally shot another teen after a confrontation involving two groups of juveniles.

County officials held a March 1 roundtable to address the issue, a youth violence summit followed in April and staff traveled to Houston in June to assess the “no questions asked” gun buyback program.

Timeline of El Paso County’s gun buyback initiative. (courtesy El Paso County)

El Paso County’s focus is on juveniles, but Arroyo-Butler said other kinds of violence can be averted through the program.

“If there is anybody who feels that there could be somebody in their home who is at risk of committing a crime or harming themselves, we hope this will be a mechanism for them to safely turn over their firearms and get a little bit of compensation in return,” she said.

El Paso County Commissioner Carlos Leon. (County of El Paso)

Precinct 2 Commissioner David Stout questioned the effectiveness of gun buyback programs and whether other community initiatives would be missing ARPA funds.

Arroyo-Butler and Precinct 1 Commissioner Carlos Leon, a former El Paso Police Department chief and lead supporter of the gun buyback initiative, said the buyback will be part of a larger violence reduction campaign largely aimed at teens and young adults.

“Countless times I would to a call and a family member pleads, ‘please remove this gun from our home.’ At the time, there’s a lot of anger in the home. […] It’s more likely that fatalities are averted when we do this,” Leon said.

Further details on the program will be available in weeks to come.