More than a dozen people sat in the basement community room at Mandell United Methodist Church waiting to receive their free gift card for turning in a firearm during Saturday’s citywide gun turn-in program.
More than 3,000 guns were turned in at more than two-dozen churches taking part in the “Don’t Kill a Dream, Save a Life” campaign. Roughly the same number were turned in in 1994, the last time the city and police department undertook this creative, constructive approach to ridding streets and homes of dangerous firearms. Anyone could anonymously turn in a gun with “no questions asked.”
The gun turn-in was scheduled to start Saturday morning at 10 at participating churches. People were lined up outside churches on the West, North and South sides as early as 9 a.m., and even earlier. At Mandell, 5000 Congress Pkwy., people began lining up outside hours before the official start.
The turn-in was scheduled to last till about 4 in the afternoon. By 11:30, about 20 guns were turned in at Mandel. Approximately a dozen rifles and twice as many handguns were turned in before noon. Another West Side church reportedly received more than 200 guns before noon.
15th District officers were on site at Mandell tagging, cataloging and disassembling the weapons. Most of the weapons were regular firearms with a few antiques.
Mandell Church Pastor and Westside Ministers CEO Gregory Livingston said one man brought in a World War II rifle with a bayonet and grenade launcher.
Chicago police offered individuals a $100 gift card for every gun turned in. Chase Bank issued the gift cards through a $10,000 donation from Jewel Osco. All of the guns collected will be destroyed, police said.
“It’s trying to reduce the options for lethal violence in the neighborhoods,” said Livingston. “As human beings, people are always going to get angry at each other. We just want to reduce the number of lethal options that they we have. Everybody afterward always hates what they did, so if we can take an option from them, we might be able to save a life.”
Livingston praised the program for helping take guns off the street. But by noon, some waiting for more than two hours for their gift cards were becoming restless. One man who waited for more than two hours picked up his gun and left, saying that he couldn’t wait any longer.
Another man, who asked that his name not be mentioned, said the whole thing was too disorganized. He also felt the turn-in was not as “anonymous” as advertised.
“It’s almost like a police lineup,” he said. “They had the tactical officers come in, look at the guns on the table and then turned around and looked at us, and then they walked out. It’s like they were trying to match the gun with the person. That’s discouraging for people, especially young black men trying to do the right thing. It’s a simple process, but they’re just making it more difficult.”
Police began handing out gift cards shortly after noon. The man who was frustrated and wanted to leave ended up surrendering the weapon and returned later in the afternoon for his gift card.
Rev. Livingston called Saturday’s event “a learning process for everyone,” adding that the city should do more turn-ins this year, particularly before the summer.
“I think it’s a great program. There’s been a lot of interest. People were calling. I think once they do this first one and people find that they can bring guns in without any worries about any suspect pasts, I think more folk will participate next time.”