By Clint Buehler
HOBBEMA, AB – Hobbema residents are hoping that a new firearms amnesty will reduce the escalating gang violence that has plagued the community for decades.
The four-month program, which went into effect August 1st, was launched with support from the RCMP, which will collect the weapons, and the Alberta government and community leaders.
Hobbema residents can hand over their illegal or unwanted firearms and ammunition to the Mounties without facing charges for possessing unregistered and unlicensed weapons, said Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford in announcing the amnesty.
The amnesty is the latest in a series of strategies including the creation of a Safe Community Task Force and the imposition of a curfew in the wake of the gang-related drive-by shooting of 23-month-old Asia Saddleback that galvanized the community in a way that previous violence hadn’t.
Community leader Roy Louis says social fracturing of the community began with the oil boom of the 1980s. The wealth it brought, especially to the Samson Cree Nation, proved a curse as much as a blessing for those who opted for drugs, alcohol, fast trucks and fast lives—lives too often cut short by overdoses, accidents, violence and suicide.
It also saw the rise of rival gangs, some them now with second generation members, violently battling for the lucrative drug trade.
“The increase in crime is still unabated,” says Mel Buffalo, president of the Indian Association of Alberta. “We need somebody to help us out to recover from these community problems.”
The gun amnesty is for all firearms, including shotguns, rifles, handguns and ammunition Hobbema residents are also encouraged to hand over unwanted replica or imitation firearms and pellet guns, as these could potentially used to commit a crime. Other dangerous weapons, such as knives, will also be accepted.
Anyone wanting to dispose of their firearms is instructed to contact Hobbema RCMP to make arrangements. Officers will go to residences to pick up firearms and ammunition. Residents should not take these items to the RCMP detachment unless instructed to do so.
“Every single weapon that’s turned over is one less that can get into the hands of criminals,” Redford said. But, she said, police and the province don’t expect hardened criminals to surrender their weapons, nor that Hobbema will instantly become crime free.
“This amnesty will prevent unwanted guns from falling into the wrong hands or seriously injuring or killing someone if accidentally discharged,” said Fred Lindsay, Alberta Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security. “Giving people the chance to dispose of their firearms in a safe and convenient manner is a practical, effective way to help ensure the safety of the community and its residents.”
“The Hobbema RCMP and First Nations communities view the gun amnesty as a crime prevention tool to address local concerns and reduce gang-related crimes involving firearms,” said RCMP “K” Division Criminal Operations Officer, Assistant Commissioner Bill Smith. “It means a lot to us to have the community’s support in this important initiative.”
Carolyn Buffalo, a councilor with the Montana First Nation, believes the program will work.
“I think the majority of the people in the four bands will welcome the gun amnesty because a vast majority of people are law-abiding citizens,” she said. “The criminal elements are not going to be too happy about it.”
RCMP will test all firearms. Any found to have been stolen or used in a crime may lead to charges. Most guns turned over will be destroyed; however, those with historical significance will be dealt with appropriately by the RCMP and band representatives.
Gun amnesties have been successful in Alberta and in other jurisdictions. In 2006, Albertans turned over more than 2,700 unwanted firearms and other weapons to police in a province-wide, month-long amnesty.
The lead agency for the province working with the community is the Safe Communities Secretariat, a priority under Premier Ed Stelmach’s plan to promote strong and vibrant communities and reduce crime.
According to officials, the Government of Alberta is committed to working together with other levels of government, community agencies, police, and all Albertans to fight crime and to ensure Albertans feel safe in their communities.