FAIRFIELD — In the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., two local business owners have found a way to reduce the number of guns in the community.
Using torches and industrial saws, the managers at Hammond Tractor Co. will tear apart handguns — free of charge, with no appointment necessary — for anyone who wants their gun destroyed.
Gary Hammond, co-owner of the 30-year business on Center Road, said he owns guns, and doesn’t have a problem with them, but he decided to provide the service to anyone who is reconsidering gun ownership.
The idea sprang out of a noon meeting Monday at the Waterville Rotary Club, when longtime member Duane Wheeler stood up and expressed his frustration with the shooting, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered last week by a lone gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Wheeler, 62, told the group he had spent Monday morning trying dispose of his four handguns, and couldn’t find any options. That’s when Hammond, a fellow Rotarian, offered to destroy the guns with tools at his company’s service shop.
Wheeler accepted, and Hammond shredded the guns later that afternoon.
Hammond has now extended the offer for anyone, at the request of Waterville City Manager Mike Roy.
“I’m not pushing people to destroy guns, it’s strictly their choice, but I respect and honor their choice,” Hammond said.
Wheeler, who owns Waterville’s two Dairy Queen stores, said the shooting in Newtown had a profound affect on him. He is a father of five children between ages 12 and 32.
“I am still rattled by it,” he said. “I have a hard time even talking about the slaughter of children and adults in Connecticut. It has really, really rattled me.”
On Monday, when Wheeler read the names of the shooting victims, he noticed that one of the children shares the same first and last name as his eldest son.
“That’s when I decided to destroy my guns,” he said.
Wheeler called Waterville police and asked an officer if he could drop the guns off at the station to be destroyed, similar to collection boxes for prescription drugs that are in many police stations.
“They said no,” Wheeler recalled. “Unless they’re evidence from a crime, they can’t take them.”
The Waterville police station doesn’t have enough storage room and gun lockers to take unwanted guns, Chief Joseph Massey said Friday. He’s not aware of any police station in Maine that provides that service.
Likewise, Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said he hasn’t heard of any such programs. Maine State Police will occasionally destroy guns, but not as a public service, he said.
“Guns used in homicides in Maine are destroyed. It’s a Maine law that was put into effect a few years back,” McCausland said.
Wheeler had owned his handguns for years — one of them since he was a teenager, two others were given to him by his father and his step-father.
“I used to think I needed a gun to protect myself,” he said. “I’m 62 years old and I’ve never, ever, ever needed a gun in my life.”
After his guns were destroyed, Wheeler posted the news to his Facebook account and extended Hammond’s invitation to his friends. He received mixed responses, he said.
Several people told Wheeler it was a good idea and hoped the idea would spread. One man told Wheeler the world was a less safe now that he destroyed his guns.
“A woman wrote a prayer for me — a very nice prayer — but also said, ‘A gun never hurt anybody sitting on a shelf,'” he said.
Wheeler said his decision hasn’t alleviated the ongoing shock and sadness, but it was a positive step.
“I’ve felt rather powerless in the big picture, but this was something I could do — albeit very small,” he said.
Hammond said his company is committed to provide free, same-day service for anyone who wants to destroy their guns. Bring unloaded guns to the store anytime during business hours and ask to speak with either of the store’s two service managers. Hammond Tractor, 216 Center Road, is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and 7:30 to noon on Saturday.
Ben McCanna — 861-9239