St. Louis launches online fundraiser stage of gun-buyback program

Surrendered handguns are seen during a gun buyback event © Kevork Djansezian
St. Louis, Missouri is crowdfunding a gun-buyback program, with each $100 donation getting one firearm off the streets. The initiative comes just over a year after the metropolitan area gained nationwide notoriety when riots erupted in suburban Ferguson.

The fundraising program gets underway on Friday in the hopes of removing hundreds of guns from the streets of the city. St. Louis Board of Aldermen Lewis Reed brought in Gun by Gun, a nationwide program, to raise the money that will be used to pay residents who turn in their weapons.

“The reason we’re doing a gun buyback program is because we need to get guns off the street and reduce the number of gun violence cases across the city,” Reed told St. Louis Public Radio.

Gun-related crime has risen sharply in the city over the last five years, with over 13,000 total such incidents he noted.

“Either somebody is being robbed or somebody being shot by a gun or a gun being involved in it,” Reed said. “So we know that when you take guns off the street, it has a direct impact.”

St. Louis will be Gun by Gun’s sixth effort, but the first outside California. Co-founder Ian Johnstone said the program is a way for residents to get involved in the fight against violence.

“People want to do something about gun violence but they get frustrated by the politics of guns,” Johnstone told KMOV. “There’s always a question of the second amendment and the debate over gun rights and it ends up just kind of going nowhere.”

Bruce Franks of 28 to Life, an organization that seeks to bridge the gap in the police/community relationship in Ferguson and St. Louis, and St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson are also partners in the gun-buyback venture.

Franks lost his brother 24 years ago when the 9-year-old was used as a human shield during an argument over drugs. Now he’s making it his mission to end gun violence.

"My hope is we remove all the guns off the street, the illegal guns, the stolen guns," he told KSDK.

Once guns are turned in, police will make sure that the weapons are still functional. Those who hand over the weapons will be paid $100 for each one, then the St. Louis PD will destroy the firearms.

Although pawn shops or gun dealers might also pay people for guns, destroying the weapons is the only way that they stay off the street, Reed said.

“The benefit of doing it this way for the community we’re taking guns off the street. That’s the direct benefit,” he said. “The benefit for the person that is turning it in is they know that gun will be destroyed, right? It’s not going to cycle back out to the community. And the other thing is this is a no questions asked. So they turn the gun in and it’s not like the police department going to ask for all their records and everything for that gun.”

Gun by Gun hopes to raise $15,000 during the crowdfunding stage. After the money has been raised, the organization will announce dates when people can turn in their guns.

Franks thinks that the buybacks should occur at the same time as job and education fairs to serve as incentives for people to turn away from violence.

"We say put the guns down all the time, but we never give them anything to exchange with these guns,” he said. “Our hope is that they pick up this book, pick up these jobs, pick up these resources, something that's going to revitalize you within the community.”

To bring the program to St. Louis, the Board of Alderman had to pass a resolution authorizing it, in accordance with a 2013 law passed by the Missouri General Assembly banning such buybacks.