Two churches took 42 working firearms off the street Saturday during a gun buyback sponsored by The Catholic Review newspaper in hopes of curbing violence in the city.
"Any weapons we get off the street is a good thing in this time, in this neighborhood," said the Rev. Peter Lyons of St. Wenceslaus Church in the Middle East neighborhood of Baltimore. Violence in the community just east of Johns Hopkins Hospital, he said, erupts "every weekend it seems."
At St. Gregory the Great Church on North Gilmor Street in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, the Rev. Damien Nalepa said 26 guns were collected, "the second-highest" take among the half-dozen or so buybacks the parish has held.
For four hours, the churches accepted automatic and semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles for $100 and any other working gun for $50. Church officials hoped more people would come forward in the coming days.
Those who participated were not asked any questions. The firearms are handed over to police, who check serial numbers against those of weapons that have been used in crimes. Then the guns are destroyed.
"Some people thought they weren't loaded, but in two cases, they were," Lyons said. He hoped the possibility of cash for the holidays would entice people to turn in guns, and said his church would likely hold another such event in the future.
To promote the buyback, fliers were distributed at nearby community centers, including the Oliver Recreation Center and Safe Streets locations. The Safe Streets organization, funded by the city, aims to mediate disputes before they turn violent in troubled neighborhoods.
Gun buybacks have been debated in Baltimore at least since 1974, when Mayor William Donald Schaefer called such programs "innovative."
In 2000, Mayor Martin O'Malley questioned whether such measures were effective, saying the initiatives tended to collect "a lot of garbage guns."
But five years later, the city spent $100,000 on a buyback program.
"If we can save one life or spare one child from being harmed by playing with a gun, then it's worth the effort," O'Malley said at the time.
Since then, several churches have organized buyback initiatives.