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Church Gun Buyback Runs Out Of Money In 45 Minutes

Ariel Worthy
90.5 WESA
Bishop Dorsey McConnell and Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert at an event previewing the Homewood gun buyback

A gun buyback held in Homewood Monday distributed $5,000 in less than one hour, according to organizers.

The Church of the Holy Cross partnered with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police and Homewood Ministries to hold the event in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in an effort to curb gun violence in the city.

According to Sylvia Wilson, senior warden of the church — and board president of the Pittsburgh Public Schools — 104 handguns and 44 rifles and shotguns were collected.

The church offered up to $100 per gun turned in anonymously, with "no questions asked." The amount participants received depended on the type of firearm. After running through the initial $5,000, organizers were able to raise more than $1,000 more through the afternoon. 

"Many people just said they’re tired of the killings, they’re tired of people dying in the street, they want to help and make a difference," Wilson said Monday afternoon. "This is one way they feel they can contribute to trying to bring some peace to their community. The fact that we did it on Martin Luther King Jr. Day made it more signifcant because he was a man of non-violence."

On Friday, at a media event previewing the gun buyback, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert said officers would trace the guns after they were collected.

"They have to make sure it's not stolen," Schubert said. "Nothing's going on with the people who turn them in; that's anonymous. But by law, we have to run the weapon [to see if it's] stolen, and if it's stolen we have to contact the owner to give them the opportunity to get the weapon back."

Schubert added that homicides have gone down since 2014, but he is not aware of any trends of reduced gun violence after buybacks.

"I can't give any numbers on that," he told reporters. "The way I look at it, if it's one weapon that's turned in that could have otherwise been used in a crime to shoot somebody or kill somebody, I consider it a success." 

He added that guns will not be destroyed immediately, but will go through the court process before they are properly disposed.

The program is partly in response to a November shooting that left a woman and a man dead near the Homewood church. Dr. Leon Haley, board chair of Episcopal Lutheran Alliance, said the neighborhood deals with gun violence more often, and they chose to have the program as  a way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

"We could have a program of songs and prayers," he said. "We could also do something very specific and practical."

The program was funded mostly by organizations and community donors, Haley said.

This was the church's first gun buyback program. Haley said that depending on its success this year, they would like for it to be an annual program. 

Patrick Doyle contributed to this report.