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The Niagara Falls Police Department has decided to undertake its first gun buyback program, after more than 20 people were shot in the city last year.

And that’s just one piece of a more comprehensive effort to address the gun violence in the city that plays host to millions of tourists from across the world each year.

“It’s a lot more than a gun buyback. It’s a whole gun reduction strategy, but we are focusing on illegal guns,” Police Superintendent E. Bryan DalPorto said Tuesday.

“We are not trying to infringe on the Second Amendment. We are just trying to dispose of old, unwanted guns and illegal guns,” said DalPorto, who has spoken in favor of the state’s plan to restrict ownership of assault rifles.

“What we’ve found is that the gun buybacks with the most success weren’t only a gun buyback. It had an educational component, which is what we are doing,” he said. “Opponents of gun buybacks think you may not be getting illegal guns off the street, but there’s no way to gauge whether a legal gun today becomes an illegal gun tomorrow.”

Falls officials were concerned about gun violence before a national debate emerged in recent weeks, in the wake of fatal shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and of two firefighters outside Rochester.

DalPorto said 21 people were shot in the city in the first 11 months of last year, including a 2-year-old girl who was shot in the face in a drive-by shooting in a grocery store parking lot. The shootings included a homicide. Luis A. Ubiles, 37, was found shot near his South Avenue home Sept. 25.

In response to past street violence, city police developed the “Help Eliminate Armed Thugs” – or HEAT – program, which this year will include its first gun buyback event from noon to 5 p.m. Feb. 23 in the Niagara Falls Fire Station at 11th Street and Ontario Avenue.

DalPorto also said that recent redeployment of patrol cars has led to quicker response times, which led police to respond to a call of shots fired Monday night and the arrest of Matthew P. Boos, who they said shot and killed a possum in his backyard.

The investigation led officers to find and confiscate five long guns, including two assault rifles, and a handgun, as well as two wooden batons, a high-capacity gun clip and ammunition found in the house, police said.

Boos, 32, who police said did not have a pistol permit, was charged with criminal possession of a weapon, discharging a firearm within 500 feet of a dwelling and reckless endangerment.

DalPorto said of Monday’s seizure: “We’re not kidding. These are the guns that are out there. This could be your neighbor.”

Guns will be accepted at the buyback no questions asked, he said.

Those turning in nonworking guns will be given $10; working long guns and rifles, $50; handguns, $75; and assault rifles, $100.

All of the guns will be destroyed, and none will be resold, kept by police or sold to officers, DalPorto said.

He added that police will not short-change any owners of legally possessed antique or valuable guns. Firearms training experts will identify these guns, take the gun for safe-keeping, give the owner a property receipt and then facilitate the sale of the gun to a gun dealer.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com