The gun buyback event in Prince George’s County on Saturday was planned long before a gunman charged into a small town Connecticut elementary school and killed 26 people.
But the tragedy weighed heavily on many people’s minds as they popped the trunks of their cars and anonymously handed over weapons to county and Laurel city police officers.
“It was a very horrific thing that happened,” said Murnis Banner, whose eyes welled with tears as he talked about the killings. Banner had just received a Visa gift card for turning in his father’s gun.
Banner said his main concern about having the weapon was that it could fall into the wrong hands.
“I’ve been wanting to get rid of [it] for years,” Banner said. After the second worst school shooting in U.S. history on Friday and learning about the gun buyback program on Saturday, his wife suggested it was the right time.
Banner was among dozens of people who filed into the tiny basement of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Laurel and handed over 160 guns in exchange for gift cards.
They were young and old. Male and female. They wore baseball caps and jeans, business suits and dresses.
The county provided gift cards ranging in value of $25 to $100, depending on the type of weapon. Gun owners who turned over a rifle or pistol received $100; $50 for revolvers and $25 for shotguns.
Saturday’s gun buyback was the third in the county this year. Three hundred weapons were collected during previous events in June and September.
Terrence Stafford, who works with a county program to reduce youth- and gang-related violence, recommended that the county offer the program. The county branch of the NAACP and the police joined in.
“With the things that have been happening lately, it’s a blessing to get one [gun] off the street,” Stafford said.
Gun owners walked with officers into the church basement as they turned over their weapons to be registered. They received a blue, red or grey coupon and headed to another table where they were handed their gift cards.
The line backed up as one man received envelopes with $700 in gift cards.
“Enjoy it,” a man handing out the cards said.
“Wal-mart will enjoy it,” the man replied.
Maj. Ray Gordon of the Prince George’s County Police Department said officers had received more than 20 guns before the 10 a.m. start of the event on Saturday.
Gordon said he didn’t know if the Connecticut shooting spurred gun owners to participate, but “it definitely is a somber reminder to those if they do have a weapon and don’t need it or feel uncomfortable with it to get rid of it.”
That is what led Marie Harris to the church in Laurel on Saturday.
Harris said she purchased her revolver for protection years ago when her son was a child.
She said the gun had been hidden away in a dresser drawer for years. Now, with “curious” grandchildren, she didn’t want them to find the weapon.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” Harris said.