Guns off of the streets

Some Warren officials say a proposed gun buyback should only be the beginning of curbing gun violence in the city.

Council President Bob Dean is proposing to work with area churches, organizations and law enforcement agencies in getting unwanted guns out of people’s homes through a gun buyback program.

Dean hopes to model Warren’s buyback based on a successful program in Cleveland.

He is resurrecting the idea he brought forward in 2010 after learning about the death of 18-year-old McKayla Hopkins of Warren, who was shot at a birthday party at 9:15 p.m. Friday in Perkins Park. Police are still investigating the shooting.

“I originally proposed the gun buyback because I learned during ride-alongs with police officers that AK-47s were being brought into the city from Detroit,” Dean said. “I worried that the import of guns would make Warren an increasingly dangerous place if nothing was done about it.”

Dean, along with other local activists, met with Cleveland Safety Director Martin Flask to discuss its gun buyback program.

During Cleveland’s latest buyback in June, there were 352 firearms (311 handguns and 41 long guns) surrendered to police.

In exchange for operable handguns or semi-automatic rifles, citizens were given $100 gift cards for handguns or $200 for semi-automatic rifles that were redeemable at Target or gas stations or grocery stores, as well as two tickets to a Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters game.

In addition, they were entered into a raffle with a chance to win up to $1,000.

Under Warren’s proposed program, area churches would raise the money needed to purchase guns and area merchants would provide additional gifts and prizes for the participants.

“The idea is to let people get unwanted guns out of their homes,” Dean said.

The program never got off the ground, because Dean and his supporters say they did not get enough help from area churches and organizations.

Councilman Alford Novak, D-2nd Ward, agrees there was not a lot of support to the idea when it was proposed in 2010.

“We have a new police chief (Eric Merkle) and when a councilman brings up an idea like this we should take it to him to learn what the department’s point of view is,” Novak said.

Novak emphasized that the city must do whatever it can to make sure people know it is safe to use Packard and Perkins parks.

“These are family-oriented places and people need to feel safe when they are using them,” he said “I don’t know whether it is simply adding security in the parks or something else, people have to feel safe in them when they have family events or send their children to play.”

While Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, agrees that a buyback program might help, he says the community must go further.

“Our residents do not deserve to live like this,” Colbert said. “Two Fridays ago there was a city resident who found that a bullet was shot through her house and lodged in her wall. Pamela Dial was hit in the head by a stray bullet that flew through her house while she was in her bed. We still do not know who shot Corey Blackwell on New Years Day.”

“We, as a community, must come together and say we are not going to live like this,” Colbert said. “It is ridiculous.”

Mayor Doug Franklin agrees that the best way to reduce violence in the community begins within the home.

“It first starts in developing values of non-violence in the home, in the church, in the schools and government plays a part in the resolution of the problem,” Franklin said.

“Government or policy solutions always are reactionary,” Franklin said. “They generally are short-lived results.”

Franklin is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Weapons, which is a national program involving 740 mayors focusing on ways to reduce gun violence.

Franklin does not expect the shooting to affect residents’ willingness to go to the city parks.

“I was out at the amphitheater the next morning with more than 500 children and their parents,” he said.

The city is looking at reducing the access to the city parks at night.

“We don’t want people in the park at night without the proper permits,” he said.

Councilman Greg Bartholomew adds that citizen participation is crucial.

“If you see something let the police know,” he said. “If there is increased activity at a suspected drug house in the neighborhood at the beginning of every month, take license plate numbers and report them to police. That can help them build cases against suspects. Police cannot be everywhere and the extra set of eyes in the community helps them do their jobs.”

Councilman John Brown, D-3rd Ward, questions the effectiveness of gun buyback programs.

“I applaud Bob Dean for raising awareness on a serious problem,” Brown said. “The problem with gun buyback is statistically they don’t solve the problem of over 30,000 gun deaths per year in the U.S.

“We must stop the unlicensed and illegal guns on the streets,” Brown said. “Bad guys don’t participate in gun buyback programs unless they’re turning in stolen guns with no questions asked.”

Rev. Gina Thornton, pastor of Grace AME Church in Warren, says she was supportive of the proposed buyback program in 2010 and would participate if one takes place in the future.

“I’m not an expert on how well these things work, but it just seems to me that it would be helpful in getting as many guns off the street as possible,” Thornton said. “Certainly a buyback program will not provide the final answer to gun violence in our neighborhoods. There are a variety of things that have led us to this point and there will be multiple things that need to be done to solve the problem.

“The church will be part of the solution, but also it will take education, bringing mothers and fathers together in the homes and our government working with with us,” Thornton said. “I know there is no one answer. I know I pray and try to touch the lives of the young people that God has entrusted me with.”

Mike Clendenin, owner of Warren Shooting Range, says he would be glad to help the councilman or area churches in a gun buyback program.

“I can see a buyback program for people who want to get rid of their guns,” Clendenin said. “The question is what they are going to do with the guns once they purchase them. Are they going to sell them to gun dealers or destroy them? If they need a licensed gun dealer to file paperwork, I can work with them.”

Clendenin said weapons that could be turned in may be civil-war era rifles that are antiques that would be a part of history.

“It would be a shame to destroy them,” he said.

Clendenin said those guns not used as part of violent crimes could be resold to law-abiding citizens through reputable gun dealers. He emphasized that criminals are not going turn over their guns.