Gun buyback promotes gun safety and mental health awareness


Danielle Lacampagne

After the guns are collected, they are put into various bins, as shown from the last buyback from 2019. Danielle Lacampagne explained what the police department does with the collected firearms. “The Sheriff’s Office process them and have to log them, but they don’t trace them to anyone,” Lacampagne said. “In the end, they all get destroyed, and essentially melted down.”

Content Warning: This article mentions suicide and contains other content which may be triggering to some readers.

In an effort to offer a safe space for gun owners to dispose of their firearms, San Mateo County is holding a gun buyback event next month.

The buyback event, scheduled for Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at 1000 Skyway Rd. in San Carlos, strives to get guns off the street and promote gun safety, as gun owners get financial compensation for each weapon they turn in.

The event will accept any firearm, from a handgun to a shotgun, assault weapons, and ghost guns. It also will be completely anonymous.

Danielle Lacampagne, a co-chair for the Citizens for a San Mateo County Gun Buyback, explained why she created this type of event back in 2018. To her, the focus is more on stopping suicides rather than preventing mass shootings.

“I have been a parent of kids growing up with lockdown drills and watching the news of mass shootings and being concerned on that level. Plus, I am a social worker and certainly know a lot about the risk of suicide by firearm,” Lacampagne said. “[In our county], suicides by gun represent about 74% of all gun deaths. They are all equally tragic, but the prevalence of suicides by gun do outweigh the prevalence of homicide in our county.”

When Lacampagne initially tried to organize this event in 2018, she worked with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Department. She shared that her group was in charge of the fundraising to pay for the guns, while the Sheriff’s Department handled everything else. 

“[San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos said he would] do everything for it, advertise it, run it, send officers, figure out a place but not give out money for the guns. He said, ‘You guys have to raise $75,000,’” Lacampagne said.

Instead of raising $75,000, Lacampagne raised $140,000 and used $125,000 of that funding for the three previous buybacks back in 2018 and 2019.

According to data presented at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting on Nov. 16, the three buybacks were able to collect over 1000 guns. 

Additionally, the Board of Supervisors recently gave the group funding for additional buyback events, allowing for five total buyback events until the end of 2023. The first event would be the Dec. 11 event. The plan is that for the next two years, there will be a buyback event twice a year, once during the spring, and another during the holiday season, focusing on different parts of the county.

Gun buyback data by Robin Linares

Lacampagne noted that more buyback events would benefit the community, as having a stable event would be an extra safety net.

“[It would be] a safety precaution to have it regularly so that people expect [that service] is available to rid your home of something that could potentially be dangerous,” Lacampagne said. 

While having a gun buyback event will help lessen the number of guns in the area, some think governments should take additional steps to help reduce gun violence. Samantha Kim, a junior and the Students Demand Action Club president, which works to spread awareness about gun violence and prevention, proposed additional measures that could coincide with the buyback event. 

“I believe that buybacks, with other methods of gun violence prevention, including red flag laws, and universal background checks, can be effective, but it has to be [part of] a larger plan,” Kim said. 

With regards to the mental health crisis, Seona Sherman, a senior, noted that while having a gun buyback is a part of the solution, it would be beneficial to have other services for mental health education as well.

“I think that any support and any systems that can be put into place is beneficial, but that doesn’t take away the problem, because just because you don’t have a gun anymore doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, it kind of just takes away one method,” Sherman said. “I think [another way is by]making events or programs that directly address mental health and helping to change the mindset and making it clear that this is an issue that can be talked about.”

Addressing some of those concerns, Lacampagne highlighted what measures are taken at these events to promote gun safety and mental health awareness.

“We do give out free gun trigger locks to people who know [other gun owners], or if they have another gun at home,” Lacampagne said. “We give out pamphlets about suicide prevention with the number for suicide hotlines since some people tell us that they have somebody in their home that is suicidal.”

I think anytime you can give out information or potentially start a conversation, it can help someone feel less alone.”

— Danielle Lacampagne

Adding on, Sherman described some additional ways the county could go about bringing mental health support to people in need.

“We have to stop these stigmas against mental illness and address how you can take care of yourself,” Sherman said. “Finding solutions is such a huge thing, and I know this is idealistic, but I think offering free therapy services [would be helpful], but that’s so difficult to do with government funding.”

While gun buybacks aren’t the entire solution, Lacampagne noted that events like these help get the topic out there and allow people to support their loved ones.  

Lacampagne said, “I think anytime you can give out information, or potentially start a conversation, it can help someone feel less alone.”