City to exchange gift cards for rifles, handguns, broken weapons

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 8/4/2022, 6 p.m.
Richmond’s first gun buyback program — largely regarded by experts as a publicity stunt — is set for 10 a.m. …

Richmond’s first gun buyback program — largely regarded by experts as a publicity stunt — is set for 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 20, at Liberation Church, 5501 Midlothian Turnpike, Mayor Levar M. Stoney announced Tuesday.

The program will have a total of $67,500 in gift cards to distribute and will continue until the gift cards run out, the mayor indicated at the press briefing.

The program will pay out $250 in gift cards for an operational assault rifle, $200 for a working handgun, $150 for a usable rifle and $25 for a broken, jammed or nonfunctional weapon, he said.

He said he is hoping for a big response that would allow the gift cards to be gone quickly.

Participants must be 18 or older, the mayor said. Those who have an unloaded gun packed in the trunk can just drive in, let a city police officer take it with no questions asked and receive one or more gift cards from Amazon, Walmart, Target or Kroger, he said.

The gift cards will only stretch so far, making it unlikely any substantial number of guns will be collected. The $67,500 will only buy 270 assault rifles or 337 handguns or 450 rifles, or some mixture of those weapons. That compares with the 2,700 nonfunctioning guns that could be purchased.

The city is teaming with the California-based Robby Poblete Foundation, which has operated three or four community gun buyback programs since 2017, to undertake this initiative. The foundation bought the cards using city-provided funds. The city in total is spending about $83,000 in federal funds to pay personnel involved and to dispose of the weapons.

City Council approved the buyback program in mid-June as an antidote to the violence that has hit Richmond, as it has multiple cities, despite substantial research that such programs have no impact on shootings, homicides or suicides.

Mayor Stoney acknowledged this buyback “is not a panacea” that will reduce the shootings that have made poor sections of the city more dangerous.

At best, he said, every gun that comes in “is one gun that can no longer be used to hurt someone else,” he said.

He said the gun buyback is just one element of the city’s efforts to fight violence.

Other elements include a targeted police initiative Operation Red Ball, which resulted in the arrest of 177 youths and adults with records for shooting and violence, with the majority from public housing communities.

The outcome of the operation city police coordinated with law enforcement partners was announced Tuesday and appears to have largely focused on scooping up felons who illegally possessed weapons in the largest effort yet to quell city violence.

The mayor said the city also is investing in recreational programming for children and youths, and contracting with nonprofits to increase the availability of after-school programming after classes resume in September.

Other elements include increased funding in pre-school operations to enable parents to work, and fresh support for a basketball league that provides an outlet for youths and adults who might otherwise get into trouble.

“We’re throwing the kitchen sink” at the violence issue, the mayor said.