Philadelphia, PA – City Council sponsored a Gun Buyback event over the weekend at two Philadelphia churches, in which residents who turned in guns received gift cards for groceries. The result was unprecedented: 224 guns were turned in to city police.
Council has supported other “gun turn-in” events in the past, but those events were voluntary, with several dozen guns on average turned in. This past Saturday, organizers offered $100 gift cards for groceries at local ShopRite markets, and the response was overwhelming.
City residents streamed to the Greater Exodus Baptist Church on North Broad Street in North Philadelphia, and to Yesha Ministries on Snyder Avenue in South Philadelphia. Philadelphia police staffed both sites, along with the Fathers Day Rally Committee, which organized the event.
By noon, over 100 guns had been turned in – and the initial supply of gift cards was exhausted. But Brown’s ShopRite stores provided additional gift cards and by 2:00 p.m., when the event ended, 224 weapons had been turned in to city police.
Mrs. Bessie Wilson, of West Oak Lane, explained her reasoning after turning in a handgun in North Philadelphia. “I’ve had the weapon in my home, in a closet, since my husband passed,” she told 6abc Action News. “But I have grandchildren who come to my home, and children get into everything. I read about the 9-year-old girl shot in her home last week. I decided to turn the gun in. And now, I can buy groceries that I need.”
Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) was at Greater Exodus Baptist Church on Saturday, and he explained Council’s rationale in supporting the Gun Buyback. “Too often, guns are misplaced or stolen from people’s homes, and these firearms wind up used in crime and found at crime scenes. Every gun we take off the streets this weekend cannot be used to harm or shoot anyone again. Just turn the gun in – no questions asked.” He thanked Greater Exodus’ pastor Reverend Dr. Herbert H. Lusk for the use of the church facilities for the event.
More on our #gunbuyback. It only takes one gun to commit a homicide. We’re set to get over 100 off the streets today.
— Darrell Clarke (@Darrell_Clarke) January 23, 2021
Bilal Qayyum, President of the Fathers Day Rally Committee, is a long-time, committed anti-violence community activist who planned the Buyback event, and has planned previous gun turn-ins.
“There’s a difference between just asking people to turn in guns – and we did that last year – and offering them an incentive, and it shows that this works,” Qayyum said.
“People were able to put food on the table,” said Councilmember Cindy Bass at the buyback event. Bass chairs Council’s Public Health Committee. “We know that because of COVID-19, people are really struggling, so this goes a long way.”
Qayyum and Councilmembers thanked the Greenfield Foundation, led by Emily Clark, which donated $10,000 towards the purchase of the gift cards for groceries. Clark told the media she believed that escalating gun violence in Philadelphia was “everyone’s problem” to help solve.
In South Philadelphia, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), who co-chairs Council’s Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, credited Bishop James Darrell Robinson Sr., of Yesha Ministries, for opening that house of worship to host the Gun Buyback.
“224 guns are now off the streets of Philadelphia thanks to concerned citizens who said by their actions this weekend that they are sick and tired of the gun violence plaguing our city and wanted to play a role in making Philadelphia safer,” Johnson said. “Gun buybacks are just a part of an overall long-term strategy to reduce the crime and murder rate in Philadelphia.”
Philadelphia experienced near-record highs in homicides (499) last year, with more than 2,200 people shot – both statistics far higher than in 2019. Already in 2021, 36 people have been shot and killed, a 6 percent increase over last year’s total. Meanwhile, 13 people under the age of 18 have been shot this year already, well over the number this time last year.
“The level of violence in the city is unacceptable, and it’s harming the city beyond anything else that’s going on,” said Deputy Police Commissioner Ben Naish, who joined Councilmembers last week to promote the Gun Buyback event. “Guns that are lying around houses get stolen, and then we find out they are guns that are used in crimes. A lot of times there are guns that family members recognize shouldn’t be in the house. If they take the initiative and do the right thing and turn those guns in, and because of the help of wonderful supporters, have a financial benefit of a gift card, that would be a great thing. If this endeavor leads to one less crime committed, it would be the best thing for everyone. Thanks to Council for their involvement.”
Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), who chairs Council’s Public Safety Committee, said this before the Buyback this weekend. “You’ve heard the term penny-wise or pound-foolish? Every murder that we prevent saves a life, but it saves taxpayers’ dollars too. The average murder trial in the city costs $100,000. We’re thankful for the sponsorships. If we save one soul, even better. And for struggling families, a $100 gift card can be the difference between eating or not eating.”