By Azriel James Relph
When you subtract nearly a thousand guns from the arsenals of residents, what do you get? Safer Bronx streets, say the organizers of the Fourth Annual Mother’s Day Walk Against Gun Violence.
In April, the most successful gun buy-back since the New York City Police Department and the Bronx District Attorney program began last summer yielded 987 guns.
Six churches throughout the borough – including Immaculate Conception on East 150th Street and Melrose Avenue – served as the drop-off points for residents looking to exchange firearms for $200 cash cards, no questions asked.
Among the firearms turned in were 296 revolvers, 174 automatic pistols, 21 assault weapons, 13 sawed-off shotguns, 242 rifles, 163 shotguns, and 78 others, including BB guns.
Asked why they were turning in their weapons, one man said he participated in the buy-back because “I really need the money right now,” while another man said, “Times are just hard,” and one woman answered simply, “Bills.”
At one point a line formed at the ATM machine in a bodega on Melrose Avenue across the street from Immaculate Conception. Most of those waiting had come right out of the buy-back with their cash cards in hand.
One young man, who asked to be called Shaheed, elaborated on what had brought him to the event: “A gun is for protection, but you’ve gotta have something to protect,” said the 27 year-old from Harlem. “I saw it in the corner collecting dust, and at this time, I don’t have any use for it. Money is more important right now, and I’m gonna pay some bills.”
According to Gloria Cruz, leader of the Bronx Chapter of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, however, more than just tough economic times led so many people to hand in their weapons.
“Money was tough this year,” she said, “but a lot of it had to do with the churches and the community groups involved in the program. The word got out and the people from the neighborhood knew about it. Churches are easily accessible and are a nice private place where people don’t feel they will be judged.”
Cruz, who helped promote the April 25 gun buy-back and also organized the May 5 Walk Against Gun Violence, insists that people are driven by a desire to improve their community and not just by the $200 payout.
“People just wanted to step up and take responsibility by getting guns out of their homes. Changing your community starts with changing yourself. The first part is getting that gun out of your house so people don’t get hurt,” Cruz said.
She believes the gun buy-back could have been even more successful if there had been more time. “Ten hours would have been even better than six hours. The Department of Justice should take a look at how successful this was and make these regular, year-round events.”
Someone thought the gun buy-back was a chance to get rid of even more lethal weapons. Although flyers for the buy-back clearly stated that the program was for firearms only, and not explosives or ammunition, a man attempted to hand in an improvised grenade.
Police shut down the New Gospel Temple Church of God in Christ in Fairmont-Claremont Village for several hours while the Emergency Services Squad removed the grenade.
Since the program began last July, the NYPD has brought in 4,538 guns at buy-backs in churches. Guns from these buy-backs are melted down and turned into wire coat hangers.
“The Bible tells us that ‘wisdom is better than weapons,’” said Police Commisioner Ray Kelly at a press conference after the event. “You might say we are beating swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks and handguns into hangers.”