Churches put up money for gun buyback
CHAMPAIGN — If you've got a gun or two around your home, here's a chance to sell them to police, no questions asked.
Champaign County residents — excluding gun dealers — can bring up to two guns to a gun buyback being held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 4 at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, 201 W. Kenyon Road.
A prepaid $50 Visa cash card will be given in exchange for each gun turned in.
"We'll certainly take all the guns you want to turn in, but we're only going to pay for two," Urbana Police Chief Pat Connolly said.
Or, rather, local churches and contributors will pay, because they're providing the money for the buyback.
Local police departments are providing the manpower and expertise, Connolly said.
Stone Creek Church, Urbana, and Berean Covenant Church, Champaign, are raising the money.
Connolly said Stone Creek Church approached his department and proposed the gun buyback to help make the community safer after three people were killed by guns in an eight-day period.
As far as he's concerned, it's already been successful, Connolly said. Two people who heard Stone Creek Church would help get firearms to police asked if they could surrender their guns at the church, and officers have already picked them up.
"That's two guns from young people who don't know how to handle them and didn't know what to do," he said.
Connolly said he knows through talking to people in the community that not enough adults are talking to kids about gun safety.
"I hope the motivation behind this is people will say, 'Maybe it's not safe to leave a gun safe and secure between mattresses, and maybe it's time to get rid of it,'" he said.
Police have asked the churches involved in the buyback to raise enough money for 400 guns, and fundraising is about half-way to that goal, said Terry Austria, Stone Creek Church's college and young adult pastor, who is organizing the gun buyback.
Austria said his church helped out with the funeral costs and held a vigil for 3-year-old Mekhi Woods, the Urbana toddler who was shot May 16 by his 14-year-old uncle, and church members want to spare other families a similar tragedy. The teen told police he thought the gun wasn't loaded and was using it to teach the child a gun-safety lesson.
"Several families have guns in the house. If they're not doing anything practical with them, we want to give them an opportunity to make their homes safer," Austria said.
Connolly said he's not naive enough to think hard-core criminals will sell guns to police in this event, but Austria said he doesn't give up on anybody having a change of heart.
"There are people who want to have a change of heart, and we're making it easy for them," he said.
The gun buyback is part of Stone Creek Church's long-term Inspire Urbana program focused on the east side of the city, and church members have been out working in neighborhoods making contacts through such events as grocery giveaways, free makeovers and a basketball tournament.
No names will be asked at the gun buyback. There won't be any surveillance and nobody will be forced to talk to anyone, Austria said.
"But if they want to talk, we'll talk," he adds.
The guns will be taken by police in the parking lot, but people will need to come inside the public health building to pick up their prepaid Visa cards, and the churches will have staffed tables with refreshments inside the building for anyone who wants to stop by, Austria said.
He stressed this is a community-safety issue for Stone Creek Church, and the church doesn't take issue with all guns.
"We have a lot of outdoorsmen in our church, and we're not anti-gun," he said. "We're going after illegal guns and trying to protect minors."
Public Health Administrator Julie Pryde said the health district is more than willing to take part in this event, because violence and unintended injuries are two major local health issues.
"I'm a big supporter of education for people who have guns," she said.
The health district would be just as happy to host a gun lock give-away to increase gun safety in the community, she said.
In planning the event, Connolly said, local police contacted other police departments that have conducted buybacks.
"We learned a lot by their mistakes, so we don't create them as well," he said.
Meanwhile, his officers talk to neighborhood watch groups, church groups and other organizations with interest in gun awareness and safety, he said.
"I recognize a gun buyback won't solve all our problems about accidental shootings in this community, but it certainly won't hurt," he said.
Champaign County gun buyback
When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 4.
Where: Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, 201 W. Kenyon Road, C.
Details: Champaign County residents — no gun dealers — can bring up to two guns and receive a $50 Visa cash card for each. Additional guns will be accepted, however.
Organizers: Stone Creek Church in Urbana, Berean Covenant Church in Champaign, Urbana Police Department, C-U Public Health District.
More information: http://www.inspireurbana.com/guns.