Gift Cards for Guns

Dalinda Ifill Pressat's picture

Disposing of unwanted items doesn’t often come with a reward, especially a reward of up to $200. On Saturday, June 10, however, Cambridge residents will be awarded gift cards ranging from $50 - $200 for each firearm they securely dispose of to public safety officers at the city’s third annual Gun Buy-Back.
 
Lori Lander,  co-founder and co-director of Many Helping Hands 365 started the gun buy-back initiative in Cambridge two years ago after attending similar initiatives in the cities of Arlington and Belmont. She says that people want to get rid of guns for many different reasons and says that having an annual gun buy-back allows an avenue for people to get rid of their guns.
 
“In the 1990s there were several gun buy-backs that were focused on street guns and gang guns ... The gun buy-backs that are happening now in Cambridge and in other towns and cities in Middlesex County are focused on getting unwanted and unsecured guns out of homes,” Lander says.  
 
Lander says that gun buy-backs were once ran by police departments, and while police departments are still involved, she says the initiative in Cambridge for the past three years has been more “bottom up, community-run.”
 
Cambridge’s interfaith-based organizations, non profit organizations, and regional partners are collaboratively hosting this years’ event. The gun buy-back drop off locations for Saturday, June 10 are the Pentecostal Tabernacle Church and the Reservoir Church between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12 p.m.
 
Lander says her hope is that the gun buy-back initiative in the city of Cambridge becomes “regularized sort of like a hazardous waste day.”
 
“The focus of these gun buy-backs is saying, if there are unsecured, unlocked guns in homes, they pose a great risk to children, to people with mental illness, and to people who are in situations where domestic violence is an issue,” Lander says. “In some sense this is much more of a public health and public safety issue than just a street issue.”
 
Jeremy Warnick, director of Communication & Media Relations for Cambridge Police, says during the first annual initiative in Cambridge, there were about 56 firearms turned in.

He says that while the number of firearms turned in last year at the second annual dropped to about 23, the event “creates a lot of awareness around gun safety and violence, and it creates a lot of awareness around different things that are good to bring up to the community.”
 
Warnick says the gun buy-back initiative in Cambridge is also a great opportunity for police to engage with members of the community.
 
“The day lends itself to not just staying on site but walking around the immediate vicinity of the two church grounds and meeting neighbors, people playing basketball, people just walking around outside. It just gives us another touch point with the community,” Warnick says.
 
Such police-community engagement for this year’s gun buy-back will be also reflected in the pick-up service being offered to Cambridge residents who are unable to make it to the drop off locations during the event’s hours.
 
“If someone is unable to arrive between the hours of 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. when we’re on site, someone can just call the (Cambridge) police department (the day of, or within a week after the event) and let them know that they were unable to physically be there on that Saturday and they can arrange for a pick up,” Warnick says.
 
Warnick says picking up guns from homes is a service the Cambridge Police Department offers year round, the only difference is that for purposes of the gun buy-back event, the person will be given a gift card.
 
The gun buy-back initiative in Cambridge also allows the opportunity for kids to get involved.
 
“One thing we started to do last year that we’re going to continue to do this year is if kids even want to turn in a toy gun, we’re giving a $5 ice cream cards,” Warnick says. The gift cards for kids’ toy guns turned in are to Toscanini’s Ice Cream.
 
“There’s a lot of incidences not necessarily in Cambridge but around the country where kids or teenagers are using BB-guns that could be easily mistaken for real guns and it makes that split decision very difficult for officers as they’re in a confrontation, so just even educating them about that type of thing is important,” Warnick says. “It’s an opportunity to kind of educate them about the dangers and make them think a little bit about what they’re playing with.”
 
HOW IT WORKS:
According to Lori Lander, when you arrive to the gun buy-back sites, there will be a table with police officers who will take the gun and examine it to make sure it is not loaded. You are then given a voucher that says the firearm (or toy gun) is worth a certain amount of dollars in gift cards. You then proceed to bring the voucher over to another table that is staffed by volunteers. Upon handing over the voucher to a volunteer, you’re allowed to redeem the voucher amount by choosing the valued grocery gift card of your liking to any of the participating grocery stores. No questions asked. No identification required.
 
According to Lander, any left over gift cards from the days’ gun buy-back will get distributed among all of Cambridge’s food pantries.
 
Lander says it takes a couple of years for an initiative like the gun buy-back to catch on. She says however that next year for the fourth annual she is hoping to work with the Middlesex County Sheriff’s department to do a gun buy-back in all the towns in Middlesex County.
 
“The vibe is momentum. How do we make this not just a one time event, but a vibe of more safety where the entire community can be a part of it and where more organizations and more churches are joining,” Lander says.
 
NATIONAL IMPACT:
•A 2014 research study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that over twenty thousand of the total 41,773 suicides were suicides by firearms -the number has since increased.
 
•In a 2016 research study done by The Associated Press and USA Today, findings showed that minors across the nation died from accidental shootings every every other day due to self inflicted wounds and the hands of other children or adults.
 
•According to the Violence Policy Center firearms, specifically handguns, are the number one weapon of choice in domestic violence homicides.
 
•Decision making continues across the nation regarding regulation for people with mental illness accessing handguns. Earlier this year it was reported that the House voted to overturn a rule designed by the Obama administration to prevent those with mental illness from obtaining firearms. According to a 2016 research article by Berkley Wellness, many of the mass shootings over the past few years in the U.S., including Newtown, CT, were carried out by someone with a history of mental illness.
 
Lander says she is looking forward to the community engagement where people can “watch out for one another” and make their homes and communities safer.
 
“We’re unlikely to get national gun safety legislation because of the NRA as well as the current power structure in Washington,” Lander says. “But we can make a difference on a local level. There is work that we can do community by community that can save lives.”