Bronx residents go to church to surrender weapons to police

Three local churches opened their sanctuaries Saturday, Sept. 20 to any resident who wanted to hand over their guns to the New York Police Department in exchange for cash.

By the end of the day, police said dozens of Bronx residents had surrendered 128 weapons in the church sanctuaries, no questions asked. The stash included 78 revolvers and 38 semi-automatic rifles that were exchanged for $20 and $200 apiece, respectively. Police said three assault weapons, one rifle, two shotguns and six other firearms including BB guns, zip guns and starters were also taken in.

Part of the collected guns at the Bronx gun buyback event on Saturday Sept. 20th

Some of the 128 weapons collected at Bronx gun buyback events on Saturday Sept. 20 (DCPI)

“One of the first things I noticed was there wasn’t a good relationship between the cops and the community,” said Rev. Jonathan Recabarren, pastor at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church on the corner of Walton Avenue and East 188th Street, one of the gun buyback sites. He said he had been hoping to host an event like this ever since he was appointed to the church  two years ago. One of his missions was to foster a safer community by serving as liaison between residents and law enforcement.

Organizers of the gun buyback had hoped to end up with more surrendered firearms yesterday, especially since shooting rates are on the rise in the area. “One is better than zero,” said Deputy Inspector Philip Rivera of the 46th Precinct. Five years ago nearly 1,000 weapons were taken off the streets. But, Rivera said, “the more the merrier.”

The overall crime rate in the Bronx is down 3 percent from last year according to this week’s police statistics. However, there have also been 247 shooting incidents in the Bronx since January 2014, a 19.3 percent increase since the previous year.

“I think people have had enough of the violence on the streets,” said Lawrence Nikunen, a police commanding officer in the borough.  “Most people, like the police, will take any opportunity to get a gun off the streets.”


One of the guns Buyback centers in the Bronx on Sept. 20th

In the first four hours of Saturday’s gun buyback, 33 guns were exchanged for cash at Fordham Evangelical Lutheran Church (ALICE GUILHAMON/BronxInk)

The event was sponsored by the Bronx District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD Commissioner in collaboration with local leaders. This year, the recent racial turmoil in Ferguson, MO in the wake of a police killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, and the death of Eric Garner, a black Staten Island resident at the hands of arresting officers, have left community relations strained. Rev. Recabarren said he received phone calls from skeptical community members who were suspicious of the event and worried they might be arrested for illegally possessing guns.

“That’s my role as clergy,” Rev. Recabarren said, “building a relationship between the law and the community.” He reassured them that the purpose of the event was not to trick them, but to create a safer community by getting guns off the streets.

Some of the participants who showed up at Fordham Lutheran Church said they were worried about the legality and safety of the guns in their homes.

One middle-aged Bronx man said he had owned his guns since he was a child, and worried that they might not be legal since the laws had changed. He left the church Saturday with an empty silver gun case and $600 cash.

Another middle-aged Bronxite waiting alone in the church sanctuary said, “I have children at home, I didn’t want any accidents to happen.” He left the church with $200.  The buyback promised anonymity and neither man wanted to give his name.

“It’s effective if we get one gun,” said Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson, “every gun is a threat.” Johnson announced this week he will be joining other prosecutors in October for a national summit on combating gun-violence. The goal is to learn measures that can be put in place in an effort to find the most effective approach. Johnson said at the Saturday event, that gun buybacks in the past have proved a successful tool in fostering a safer community.


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