‘Launch a place of hope’

BALTIMORE — As motorists wrapped around Edmondson Village Shopping Center on Saturday to exchange their firearms for cash, local leaders expressed hope for further peace building.

The Baltimore Archdiocese’s buyback event in West Baltimore garnered around 356 firearms, including 158 handguns and 17 semiautomatic weapons, a diocesan spokesperson said. The Catholic Church had put together more than $50,000 for the event, where Baltimore Police collected firearms from the trunks of vehicles, applied a safety lock and routed the weapons to be destroyed.

The Rev. Michael Murphy, who organized the event, acknowledged that it’s disputed how effective gun buybacks are at curbing violence, but said it was worth a shot.

“My goal in all of this was certainly to get as many guns off the street as possible,” Murphy, who is the head pastor of St. Joseph Monastery Parish in the nearby Irvington neighborhood, said.

The buyback, scheduled to run until 4 p.m., ran out of cash and gift cards just before 1 p.m. Most of the drivers who came through to drop off weapons were middle-aged or older, said Baltimore Police Maj. Dwayne Swinton, who leads the department’s special events section.

Some officials and organizers at the event acknowledged in part that the cash envelopes — containing either $200 for those turning in handguns, rifles or shotguns, or $300 for assault weapons — would not be enough to convince young people, who have increasingly become both victims and suspects in city gun violence, to hand in firearms.

“In my heart I’d hoped and prayed that some of them might be here today to turn in their weapons, but maybe we need to do something differently to reach out to them,” Murphy said. He said the diocese made a “great effort” to reach young people with access to firearms, through direct mailing, door-knocking and partnerships with anti-violence groups.

Money given for weapons at the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s gun buyback at Edmondson Village Shopping Center is placed in an envelope with a thank you note. People are getting $200 for handguns, rifles, and shotguns and $300 for semiautomatic assault weapons.

But the drive-thru buyback, joined by a resource fair in the parking lot where a January shooting killed a 16-year-old and injured four other teens, was not just a way to weaken the supply of firearms, but a springboard for change.

“We wanted to use the site of a tragedy to launch a place of hope,” Murphy said.

U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume said the location was “personal” to him because he had participated in a justice rally with former Rep. Parren Mitchell about 50 years ago on the grounds of the shopping center, now standing there again in another effort to help the community heal.

“If it means we’ve got to come back again for the next 50 (years), we have to, we must, because our communities are too very important to walk away from,” Mfume said.

“One of the biggest root causes is access to guns, and so I applaud this gun buyback effort. But what can we do, elected officials?” Baltimore Sen. Jill Carter said at the event. “We can ensure that we focus on the traffickers and the sellers that are infusing our community with these guns.”

At the event, Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby described the buyback as a “symbolic representation of removal of that symbolic gun” used to commit violence.

“But the reality is the foundation and the root of it spans and starts far deeper than that. That’s why we’re here today. And that’s why we can’t give up,” Mosby said.

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