Peoria volunteers want to get guns off the streets

Frank Radosevich II

Collaborating with police, civic and religious leaders are organizing a gun buy-back program in the hope of curbing crime and reaching those most at risk.

The group of eight to 15 area pastors said the number of shootings and crimes involving firearms has spurred them to get weapons off the streets. At the same time, organizers want to boost levels of community involvement as well as restore a sense of trust between residents and police.

"What we hope to establish with the gun exchange is not only take weapons off the streets but use this as a vehicle to get into the homes of the community," said one of the planners, Pastor Odell Dye of Resurrection Power Church of God in Christ.

The buy-back program will offer a non-alcoholic $100 gift card to people in exchange for a functioning weapon, according to the Rev. Harvey Burnett of New Bethel Church of God in Christ.

"This will also be a ‘no questions asked’ exchange," he added. "Our only prerequisite is to meet the individuals and pray for them."

The group, Burnett said, is still hammering out details for the event and seeking more funding from businesses but anticipates hosting four separate exchanges at local churches during weekends in late September and early October.

After the collection, the firearms will be turned over to Peoria police officers who will check to see if the weapon was ever reported stolen or possibly linked to a crime. If found to be clean, the weapons will be melted down at a foundry.

"Their goals are our goals, which is to reduce violence," said police Capt. Phil Korem, adding the program marks the first time such an approach has been undertaken in Peoria. "One gun crime is too many."

Gun buy-back programs, where authorities offer residents cash payments or gift certificates as incentives to turn in firearms, have been used throughout the country. A daylong buy-back event hosted in Chicago in July netted several thousand weapons, police said.

"It was a huge success," said Glen Brooks, area coordinator for Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy. "The last one had over 6,700 in less than six hours."

The programs, however, have come under fire from some critics. Although popular within communities, studies have found no compelling evidence of a reduction in gun crime. The conclusion led the Bush administration to end a federal buy-back program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that was started under the Clinton administration.

Nonetheless, Peoria officials said success will not be measured by the number of guns collected but by the number of discussions generated about gun crimes.

"What we are hoping is that this will spark conversations between families," Burnett said. "If we can call people to reconsider their ways, that’s a positive."

Although the event is still in its early stages, it has already garnered local interest from residents. After her 20-year-old son, Jon Buckley, was fatally shot Sept. 20, 2006, Yolanda Wallace said she’ll be on hand helping out and hopes people will take advantage of the offer.

Wallace said, "The only way I seem to be getting my healing is by getting directly involved. … I just can’t stand to see it happen to someone else."

Frank Radosevich II can be reached at (309) 686-3142 or fradosevich@pjstar.com.