With the recent mass shooting in Connecticut still fresh in their minds, leaders of a north Charlotte church opened their doors last week for their annual program aimed at getting guns off the streets.
For six Christmases now, New Life Fellowship Center has offered gift cards or gas cards in exchange for guns as a way to reduce access to the deadly weapons and, in some small way, reduce area crime.
Church security director Stuart Talton said the importance of those goals was reinforced this year in light of the 26 people who were shot to death on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“There’s been a heightened awareness since Sandy Hook, but we’ve known for a while we need to get guns off the street,” Talton said.
The Rev. John Kee set up the gun exchange program so that people could anonymously turn their weapons in without fear of prosecution or judgment. This year the church collected 90 guns over three days, which is on par with the number of weapons taken up in years past, Talton said.
All kinds of people showed up, including grandparents with rifles as well as single men and women with revolvers and shotguns.
Some gave church leaders reasons for being there: They wanted to protect their children or needed the extra money the gift cards would provide before Christmas. Others quietly turned in their guns, took the cards and left, Talton said.
Large tables set up in a church storage room displayed the guns collected by Saturday afternoon. There were 9-millimeter handguns, Colt 45s, sawed-off rifles and a .25-caliber handgun with a pink pearl handle.
Church leaders plan to turn the guns over to Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, who will record the serial numbers of the weapons and then destroy them. CMPD officials were not immediately available to comment on whether gun exchanges can actually impact gun violence.
National and international studies show the programs are good for promoting community and police cooperation. But their effect on either gun crime or gun-related injury rates is unknown, according to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, a nonprofit organization based in Madison, Wis.
And even though the program officially is over until next year, Talton said they will still accept guns from people who want to give them up.