Chicago police collected nearly 300 guns, including 30 that belonged to an elderly woman, at an April 1 gun buyback event hosted by a West Side church.
Hope Community Church in the Austin neighborhood is where gun owners arrived one after another to turn in their firearms — which ranged from BB guns to rifles to .22 calibers — in exchange for a $100 gift card for each real gun and a $10 gift card for air guns and BB guns.
Ruby Wilmer, a 72-year-old Austin resident, said she brought guns her late husband owned.
“He passed away last year and left these guns, which I was not using,” she said. “I figured now was a time to safely have them discarded.”
But not every gun owner at the buyback lived on the West Side. Tiniah Gant, 21, lives in south suburban Lynwood.
“I am a member of Hope Church but traveled from the Far South Side to turn in a gun,” she said. “I support getting guns off the street because guns kill people.”
As the gun buyback got underway, a man in his 20s was shot in the leg four blocks from the afternoon event, according to Chicago police.
Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st), whose district includes Austin, said the streets of Chicago are filled with too many ‘gun savages’ and something needs to be done about it.
“We have got to do a better job with parenting. We have to help these young mothers, fathers and grandparents who are struggling to raise these kids,” said Boykin, who attended the buyback. “We’ve got to give them the resources they need to strengthen their families.”
He added that a major jobs bill is also needed to deal with gun violence.
“We have got to get teens off the street corners selling drugs and into jobs,” explained Boykin. “If we increase the visibility of police in the community, then that will allow for community policing. I believe [community policing] would help to stabilize communities and reduce gun violence.”
Boykin’s seven-point gun plan to reduce gun violence includes stiffer penalties, such as long prison sentences, expanding drug courts in Cook County and utilizing the Cook County Sheriff’s Police.
Newly appointed Interim Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stopped by the event and said he thought the buyback was a big success.
“Any event that causes us to get guns off the street is a good thing. And if we can duplicate this type of effort all across the city we’ll be that much further in getting guns off the street,” Johnson told Austin Weekly News.
“The community needs to step up and help police get guns off the street, because the police cannot do it alone. That’s why for the next few weeks I plan on meeting with our community partners to see what assistance they could provide us.”
This was the first time Hope Church hosted a gun buyback, but the Rev. Steve Epting, the church’s pastor, said it wouldn’t be their last.
“I’d like to see this event become an annual thing we do here to help the community,” said Epting. “I am pleased with the outcome of this event.”
Last week Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that Johnson was replacing John Escalante as interim police superintendent with the hope of Johnson being a finalist for superintendent when the Police Board conducts its second national search for a new top cop.
Escalante has returned to his previous position as first deputy, serving as second-in-command of the police department.