A Pittsburgh church raised $5,000 for a gun buyback program and ran out of money within an hour

To honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., the Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood hosted a gun buyback event on Mon., Jan. 20.

The event was slated to last from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but after less than an hour, the church’s fundraised budget of $5,000 had been given away. Toward the end of the event, community members joined together to donate an additional $1,500 in cash and checks to support more buybacks.

Among the donors was State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-East Liberty), who praised the community’s overwhelmingly positive engagement. Even after the money had run out, many chose to turn in the guns anyway without payment.

It was a response that Holy Cross Pastor Torrey Johnson called “absolutely amazing.”

A total of 148 weapons had been surrendered by the end of the event — 44 rifles and shotguns, and 104 handguns. Two of the surrendered weapons were what are often called assault rifles; one was an AK-47 and another was an AR-15.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, 15,208 people died from gun-related causes in 2019 and an additional 29,501 were injured. The Center for American Progress estimates that Pennsylvania’s rate of gun-homicides is among the highest in the nation and that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the epidemic.

“The inspiration for offering the buyback came from a concern about the safety of the Homewood community in general, but it was also a direct response to the double homicide that took place outside of the church on the night of Nov. 13,” said Rich Creehan, director of external relations for Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross.

He was referring to the killing of 26-year-old Kierra Eddisha Harris of McKees Rocks and 29-year-old Lavon Sizemore of Swissvale, who were shot at the intersection of Kelly and Collier Streets in mid-November.

Creehan went on to say that the parish leaders chose Martin Luther King Jr. Day “as a way to honor Dr. King’s legacy and teaching about non-violence.”

The U.S. makes up about 46% of civilian gun ownership in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey, a research project by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. The U.S. essentially leads the world in terms of gun ownership; there are about 121 firearms in the country for every 100 U.S. citizens. In Pennsylvania, roughly 27% of residents own a gun of some sort.

Buyback programs, such as the one hosted on Monday, aim to reduce gun violence by removing firearms from the streets and incentivizing gun owners to turn in their weapons with no questions asked — and walk away with a chunk of change.

According to Pittsburgh Police spokesman Maurice Matthews, the surrendered guns will be logged by the department. If any had been reported stolen, attempts will be made to return them to their owners.

The remaining weapons, he said, will eventually be destroyed as soon as the police can obtain a court order to do so.

There are no plans for the city to host a buyback of its own at this time, but according to Creehan, another similar program may nonetheless be in the church’s future.

“Given the response to the MLK Day event, the clergy and lay leaders of Holy Cross Church are very intent on offering another buyback,” he said. “The timing of when that might happen has not yet been decided.”