by Ellen Clark-King
Yesterday (Saturday 4 August) Grace Cathedral held its first ever gun buy back, with the help of a grant from the San Francisco Foundation. We provided the funds, the volunteers and the venue; the police provided the security and the people to handle the firearms. It’s a ‘no questions asked’ deal. People drive (or walk) up with their guns, hand them over and get a receipt and an envelope of cash. The current rate in SF at least is $100 for a handgun or shotgun, $200 for an assault weapon, and $25 for a BB gun.
It made for an interesting morning. We were out at Bayview Mission, in a part of the city that sees more gun violence than most. The first taker was an elderly woman who had walked through the streets carrying her handgun in a see-though plastic baggy. The largest number of guns given in by any one person was 12: 6 shotguns and 6 handguns. The oldest gun must have been manufactured 50 years ago. The ones we were most grateful to get out of people’s hands were assault weapons and guns from homes with children, knowing how many lives are lost to accidental shootings at home (#EndFamilyFire).
We ended up with 55 guns (plus 3 BB guns and one replica) – luckily matching nearly exactly the money we had to give.
This isn’t a cheap undertaking for a church but it is immensely satisfying. One of those times when you know that you are making a real difference. Not solving the problem of gun violence. Not undercutting the political influence of the NRA. But still doing something practical and effective – allowing people to get rid of the guns that they no longer want in their lives. Making it less likely that an unsecured gun will cause a family tragedy. Making it less likely that a moment of anger will lead to deadly violence.
Just to be clear – we didn’t handle any of the guns, that was left to firearm experts supplied by the police. We welcomed the people bringing the guns, thanked them for being willing to give them up, handed over the cash, and received their thanks in turn for offering this service.
It was a meaningful and tiring morning for Grace’s 10 volunteers. It left us feeling that our faith had truly been in action that day, and that this is something we want to do again. I encourage other churches to consider whether this is something they could do – maybe in alliance with other congregations – to help make their own locale a somewhat safer place to be.
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King is Executive Pastor and Canon for Social Justice, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA
image: a SF police officer guards turned in guns from a a gun buyback in 2017, photo by Paul Chinn, The Chronicle