People wait in line at the Gun Buyback event on Friday, April 2, 2021 in Decatur, Ill. (Jared Treece | @bisalo )
People wait in line at the Gun Buyback event on Friday, April 2, 2021 in Decatur, Ill.

Jared Treece | @bisalo

Gun buybacks: A successful way to engage the community?

May 13, 2021

On the afternoon of April 2nd, Decatur Illinois held its first ever gun buyback event. More than 100 people gathered at the Community Church of God to return their rifles, pistols and old magazines in exchange for cash and no questions asked. Police said they bought back $40,000 worth of weapons during the event. 

This “day of peace” was funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation and hosted by an alliance of Decatur churches, the NAACP, the city’s Department of Community Development and the Decatur Police Department. It was complete with music, snacks and even a clown named Sally.

It was held because community members, like Ronnie Franklin, are concerned about the recent spike in gun violence in Decatur and the central Illinois region as a whole. 

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Franklin is a community organizer who is part of Faith Coalition For the Common Good, a non-profit based in Springfield with a satellite office in Decatur. He said his organization came together with law enforcement to organize the buyback because peace has to start somewhere.

“This is the first phase of many things that will go on to help work towards bringing about that peace, bringing about that truth, that type of understanding that’s here,” Franklin said. “It has to start, people have to make a change, and the evidence of change comes with people being in a place of this nature.”

Franklin said gun control and change, starts in local communities like Decatur and it starts by communicating. 

Thelma Sutton was another community member who showed up to support the buyback. She works with the Pain to Peace Black Advocacy Group which was originally formed as a group of mothers who lost someone due to gun violence. She showed up with a banner displaying over 80 faces of young people who had been killed due to the violence since 2016 and that wasn’t even all of them she said. 

“I hope this event brings back, gets a lot of guns off the street. Illegal, legal, because even legal guns somehow get in the hands of those who are not supposed to have them so pretty much hoping it will bring the community together and speak out more for the victims,” Sutton said.

Sutton said there should be more laws regarding gun control and stricter penalties for those who kill others.

“As a nation we all should find better solutions, all come together. There’s a divide when it comes to gun violence,” Sutton said. “Gun violence is one of the nation’s worst epidemics that’s going on here right now because so many victims is cities and kids and when it becomes, when victims become kids it’s time for a lot of people to step up.”

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Police were offering $350 for assault rifles, $75 for shotguns, $225 for semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, $35 for Ar-15 magazines and $25 for semi automatic magazines.

Some, like Jack and Diana Keller, wanted to sell back guns that had been stolen from them and later returned by the police.

“We had this gun that was stolen from our house and it, they sawed it off and my husband said it’s unsafe and so he wanted to turn it in because if anybody ever, you know if anything happened to us and they tried to sell it or something, and he says it’s not safe for anybody to have so we just thought, we’ve known it for a couple years and we thought you know why not bring it down here and we would know that no one would ever have their hands on it again,” Diana said.”

However others at gun buybacks across Illinois have different intentions. 

John Boch, Executive Director Guns Save Life, said in an interview with the Daily Egyptian that one of the efforts led by the organization is that they will collect “junk guns” from members and then sell them back at events such as these and use the cash to fund their organization’s youth shooting programs. 

“We take generally non-working, broken down, junk and trade it to do gooders who want to buy back guns from criminals,” Boch said. “Criminals don’t participate in these, and we turn that rusted junk into perfectly good cash which we then use to fund the youth shooting programs to bring shooting to the next generation of young people.”

Antonio Brown, the Macon County Sheriff, said they decided to hold the event to do something to stop the uptick in gun violence seen not only in the Decatur community, but other communities throughout the country.

He said the event was more successful than he would have hoped but there are still guns out there, so this event was more about preventing future shootings.

“We said to ourselves, we said if we would have gotten one or two guns we would have been happy but […] I never ever thought we would see this which is a great thing,” Brown said.

Community member Cheryl Jenkins-Redd thinks the event had a dual purpose and was also a great way to bridge the gap between the Decatur community and the police. 

“To me, what I’m seeing right now, it’s a great turn out and this is something that I think can happen on a more regular basis and kind of get that trust back with the community with the things that’s going on in life right now, we need some type of positivity, and this right here, is definitely a step in the right direction,” Jenkins-Redd said.

Editor-in-Chief Kallie Cox can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @KallieECox.

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