07/28/2014

Baltimore supermarket swaps guns for groceries

A crowd came with .22-caliber rifles wrapped in trash bags, Saturday night special handguns, rusted shotguns handed down from grandparents

By Carrie Wells
The Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — They came with .22-caliber rifles wrapped in trash bags, Saturday night special handguns, rusted shotguns handed down from grandparents. A crowd of dozens lined up by 10 a.m. Saturday at a Northwest Baltimore church parking lot, most with gray hair and some leaning on canes or using hearing aides.

They left with one $100 ShopRite Supermarket gift card per gun turned in. Many were skeptical that the gun buyback event would achieve organizers' goal of reducing city crime, though they were pleased to get something of value for guns that in many cases hadn't been fired in years or decades.

Jakiba Herndon, 35, brought two long guns with her in a plastic shopping bag. What kind of guns were they? "I have no idea," she said.

"They're my grandfather's guns. He passed recently."

Herndon didn't think the event would make much of a dent in Baltimore's gun violence.

"The people who are committing the crimes aren't turning in their guns, and their guns are probably illegal," she said. "It's more people like us who have guns sitting around the house," who are turning them in.

Gun buyback events, intended to get guns off the street or to remove them from homes from which they could be stolen, are believed to have started in Baltimore in the 1970s. Organizers also hope they can be removed from homes where they might be used in suicides or accidentally fired by children. Studies have not found a clear link between the buybacks and a decrease in gun crime.

At Saturday's event at New All Saints Catholic Church in Howard Park, 92Q radio DJs set up a tent and told listeners to come on by.

ShopRite staffers handed out cookies to a line that numbered at least 40 people by the start of the event. Inside a church side building, Baltimore police officers inspected, tagged and cataloged the guns, no questions asked.

By the end of the event at 2 p.m., 231 guns had been recovered, according to organizers. "This always gets a lot of guns off the streets and keeps the streets a little safer," said Michael Basher, director of a community development nonprofit connected to ShopRite.

Several men holding signs that said "$$$ Cash for Guns" stood outside the event, trying to persuade people to sell their guns to them instead. They were later run off by the gun buyback organizers. One of the men, who declined to give his name, said they didn't want to see historic guns melted down. "We're trying to save a part of history," he said.

Samuel Jones, 53, said he bought his .357 handgun years ago when he was a correctional officer and no longer had a use for it. Unlike some of the other people at the buyback, he said he thought the event could achieve its goal.

"It does lessen the crime rate if you don't have them on the street," he said. "Some people may not have a lock so it's easy to [steal]. It's safer for the city."

Willie Gregory, 70, said he bought his .22-caliber rifle about 40 years ago for his children to use for target practice. The gun hadn't been used in about that long. "They weren't interested," Gregory said.

Richard McCormick, 72, also had a .22-caliber rifle he wasn't using anymore, though he said he had other guns at home. He said he wasn't worried about thieves breaking in and stealing the guns.

"Every time I go to the range to practice, I put the target on my garage so they know I know how to shoot," McCormick said.

Copyright 2014 The Baltimore Sun


McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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