gun violence

Philly Hosting 2 Gun Buybacks, as Cops Report High Volume of ‘Crime Guns'

Police will be on site at two Philadelphia churches, taking in firearms in exchange for Shop Rite gift cards.

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Getting rid of a gun could mean groceries on the table this weekend, as Philadelphia hosts two gun buyback events as part of an attempt to get firearms off the streets.

Anyone can anonymously turn in a gun at two locations between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27:

  • Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 5732 Race St.
  • Mt. Airy Church of God and Christ, 6401 Ogontz Ave.

A limited number of $100 Shop Rite gift cards are available in exchange for disposing of a firearm.

The buybacks come after a high gun homicide total in the city in 2020, a year in which the nationwide number of gun background checks surged.

“I’m tired of burying people that I know, young people that I know in particular - friends, my relatives, my nephews, and who they’ve lost to gun violence," Councilwoman Cindy Bass said on a Zoom with reporters Thursday.

According to the Harvard Kennedy School, some research has criticized the effectiveness of gun buybacks at reducing violent crime, but other recent research says buybacks can help if they’re part of a broader effort to prevent gun violence. Per Harvard's summary of the research, seeing leaders address the problem can get the public thinking about the issue. The buybacks offer a chance to inform about what else is being done.

"These unwanted weapons that are turned in could perhaps someday be taken and used in a burglary...or end up in circulation, as we have seen far too often, fall into the hands of a child in a tragic incident," Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said.

Past events in the city have also provided gun locks for owners who want to keep the weapon secure.

Councilman Curtis Jones said other efforts include police data mapping to track shooting hotspots.

“We believe sincerely that every gun that can be taken off the streets of Philadelphia is a good thing,” Jones said.

Police Forensic Science Director Mike Garvey said the guns turned in at buybacks are checked to see if they were reported stolen, and tested to see if they are linked to any active cases. The guns are then melted down.

While the buybacks have collected more than 200 guns this year, Garvey said the department is more focused on getting guns used in crimes off the streets.

And the numbers of guns willingly turned in pales in comparison to those seized in investigations. Outlaw said the department removed nearly 5,000 "crime guns" from the streets in 2020, while 2021's total stands at 837 as of Thursday.

Outlaw said the department is also seeing higher volumes of homemade "ghost guns," which are built from scratch and difficult to trace. In 2021 so far, police removed 70 ghost guns from the streets, after getting fewer than 100 in all of 2019.

In some cases, officers have found ghost gun workshops in homes, where people have purchased multiple gun parts and are putting them together, according to Deputy Commissioner Ben Naish. Those running the shops have typically gotten federal charges, he said.

There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence. Further information can be found here.

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