Longmont church hosts gun buyback to convert weapons to garden tools

·5 min read

Sep. 11—Building on a continued effort to help reduce gun violence, United Church of Christ of Longmont will host a gun buyback event, where people can exchange weapons for a gift card ranging between $100 and $300. The donated gun parts will then be converted into gardening tools.

The gun buyback event will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 25. From 2 to 4 p.m. that day, the public is welcome to watch a blacksmith transform the weapons into garden tools. The church is partnering with Colorado Springs-based RAWtools, a nonviolence advocacy organization that turns guns to garden tools. Partners in the effort also include nonprofits El Comité de Longmont and Out Boulder County

Rev. Sarah Verasco, senior minister for United Church of Christ of Longmont, said this month's event is for gun owners who would like to dispose of their weapons in a manner that is "easy, anonymous and hassle-free."

"In some ways this event is like a recycling event," Verasco said. "You know how when you turn in scraps of metal and you get cash? You're going to turn in guns that are going to be disabled in the presence of the gun owners and then they're going to receive gift cards."

The Longmont church in July hosted a giveaway of gun safety boxes. During the event, they gave away 137 biometric safes and 55 autolock boxes. This month's event builds on that effort and is part of a collective calling among Boulder County churches to help curb gun violence.

Community United Church of Christ of Boulder, 2650 Table Mesa Drive, hosted its own gun buyback event on June 13. Mike Martin, RAWtools executive director, said the organization collected 34 weapons at the Boulder church to remake into garden tools. The church is located near the Table Mesa King Soopers where 10 people died in a mass shooting on March 22.

Martin said the Boulder church's buyback event received an overall positive response from the community.

"For the most part, it was a welcome way for people to do something constructive to reduce gun violence in their community and also a way of offering hope as we turn a gun into a garden tool," Martin said.

RAWtools also worked with the Boulder Mennonite Church in April to convert donated guns into gardening tools. The flagship tools created by the organization are a hand spade and a garden mattock.

Working with a sister church in Longmont to host a similar event felt like a natural step, Martin said.

Verasco emphasized that the donation is not considered a transfer of firearms.

"It is someone freely bringing their weapon to this event," Verasco said. "It will be disabled in the presence of the owner, who will then be giving us gun parts."

Ann Noonan, a church member, said both of the Longmont church's events were intended to reduce the risk of gun violence, while empowering people to take positive action.

"There has been so much gun violence in the community and country that people are trying to find: 'What can I do to make some sort of impact?' instead of just wringing our hands," Noonan said.

Fellow church member Dede Alspaugh emphasized the event as "a safe, anonymous opportunity."

There are a few reasons the Longmont church members said people may want to donate their weapons, including if they inherited weapons they don't want or need from a loved one. They could also have had a change in life status, such as welcoming a child or grandchild into the world and have concerns about keeping the weapon safe. Whatever their reason, the church encouraged people to participate. While the serial number of the weapon will be recorded, people who donate weapons won't have to prove ownership.

At least two of the Longmont church's members have already pledged to donate their weapons. In an email shared by Verasco, church member John Parsons said he plans to make a donation on Sept. 25.

"When I turn in two guns on the 25th and make scrap of a few guns, I will give thanks to our good Lord and my heart and soul will be lighter," Parsons wrote.

People who want to take part in the event and have a weapon to donate are asked to leave the weapon unloaded in the trunk of their car. If they don't have a trunk, they can leave it in the backseat. Volunteers will come to their car to collect the weapon and take it to a station to be disabled. Ammunition cannot be donated at the buyback.

Martin said the guns turned gardening tools are sold to support the work of RAWtools. People can buy the tools on the organization's website. The organization will be donating at least one of the garden tools to United Church of Christ of Longmont, which has a community garden.

The gift cards offered to those who make a donation are a mix of Kroger store cards and Visa cards. The denomination people will receive will depend on the type and number of weapons someone brings to the buyback. The church contributed $25,000 to help pay for the lock boxes in July and for gift cards for the upcoming event. The Longmont Community Foundation has also been collecting funds to support both initiatives. People can still donate to the effort on the foundation's website at bit.ly/3nxtEzh.

"If you have guns that you don't want or are not using, we're going to get those disabled," Verasco said.

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