Buyback gets guns off the street into artists’ hands

Guns 2
(Julia Johnson/MSR News)

Pillsbury United Communities collaborated with the City of Minneapolis to host a recent Gun Buyback event at two Minneapolis fire stations, Station 14 in North Minneapolis and Station 17 in South Minneapolis. The response exceeded expectations.

The initiative was a unique partnership with support from Mayor Betsy Hodges and included the Minneapolis Police Department, the Minneapolis Fire Department, the Minneapolis African American Professional Firefighter Association, the Minneapolis Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, and the Arts, Culture and Creative Economy Office.

At Station 14 on August 27, the MSR spoke to Minneapolis Police Commander Moore of the City’s recruitment and administrative division and Chanda Smith Baker, president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities. It appeared that most of the citizens attending the Gun Buyback program were citizens who are legally allowed to own firearms.

When Moore was asked how this program is effectively going help eliminate gun violence in the inner city, Moore responded, “Getting the guns out of the bad guys’ hands is what everyone wants and expects. However, it is not always that easy.

“The guns will be taken to a lab and tested, and if they have been involved in any criminal activities the police department will keep them and investigate further,” explained Moore. The guns that have not been involved in a crime will be destroyed, and the remains will be turned over to Pillsbury United for creation of art.

“There is another factor to the reason that some of these law-abiding citizens may be present here today,” said Moore. “And that is the concern of possible suicides.

“Many of their family members probably sense a high level of stress in their lives at this moment and feel it is unsafe for them to keep guns in their homes. And they have been encouraged to get them out of the homes. Suicide is an important factor for firearm owners that many people don’t consider.”

Smith Baker was asked what pushed her to start the Gun Buyback initiative. “A few years back when I became CEO of Pillsbury United, my cousin was shot and killed here in Minneapolis, and it completely rocked my world,” she said. “Since then I have stayed committed to improving safety in our communities. As a lifetime Northside resident of Minneapolis, the issue of gun violence has stayed on my mind, and it extends beyond my personal grief and trauma.”

While in search of opportunities to help fix the problem of gun violence, Smith Baker was introduced to Jonathan Ferara’s work in New Orleans. She explained that Ferara created an exhibit called “Guns in the Hands of Artists,” and his team took decommissioned guns from the streets of New Orleans and gave them to artists to create pieces of art that could raise awareness on the issues of gun deaths in New Orleans.

“We brought that exhibit here in May 2016, and now we are taking that work to further Jonathan’s vision by making it local here,” explained Smith Baker. “I hope we can be the most powerful and effective when we give these decommissioned guns to local artists to memorialize the deaths of people that have happened in our local communities and raise voices.

“Hopefully by doing that we inspire someone to make a different choice and to get rid of his or her weapons,” continued Smith Baker. “I think this is an effort that has to continue to build trust, and I think there have to be safe places to turn in guns when people want to turn them in.

“We have had calls from people that have said, ‘I want to get out of this street life and I want to turn in my weapons,’ but we have no mechanism to do that… So I think if this event is able to raise that issue and we have an outcome that resolves that issue, then I think that is a start.”

Asked if there would be other opportunities to build that trust between the community, law enforcement and nonprofits, Smith Baker said, “I have become a bit of a vessel of all stories gun-related — good, bad or indifferent — and this is not a debate about people’s rights to own a weapon, but people’s responsible use of guns. And all I can do is continue to raise my voice on this issue and provide opportunities and be a catalyst for other people to raise their voice and create actions towards making our streets safer.”

Before the end of the event, Pillsbury ran out of gift certificates for those turning in guns. More people were still standing outside waiting to turn in their guns.

“We did a lot a research on gun buybacks, and they told us folks trickle in,” explained Smith Baker. “I brought a book thinking I would have time to read. I did not anticipate this and [I’m] not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing, but certainly it’s something to learn from.

“And if there are people out there that want to turn in their weapons, we have to think about what that means.”


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