As the pastor of a church in East New York, a rough neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., David Benke has had an up-close view of the suffering that gun violence can inflict on a community. “We’ve had parishioners who have been killed, we’ve had parishioners who have been held up at gunpoint, I’ve had guns pulled on me and we’ve had to do funerals of kids who have been shot and killed,” said Benke, who presides over St. Peter's Lutheran Church and also serves as bishop of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.
For two years, Benke has sponsored a gun buyback program at his church, where residents can trade in their firearms for cash. In the wake of the horrific shootings Friday in Newtown, Conn., many members of the community have been asking to participate, Benke said. “I have been receiving calls from people now saying, ‘Can I come by today? I need to come by next week,’” he described. “We’re in the shadow of a terrible tragedy and something that affects each family in the United States right now.”
Throughout the country, the last two days have seen a spike in participation at such prescheduled buyback events, according to local reports. Cities such as Baltimore, Oakland, Calif., and Evanston, Ill. all had prescheduled events Saturday where attendance exceeded past levels, with many gun owners expressing horror at Friday's events.
Arturo Hurtado, a Richmond, Calif., native, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the grief over the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School caused him to get rid of his gun. "I've got kids, man," Hurtado told the paper, before trading in what he called "that darn thing" for cash from the police department. Hurtado has four young children, and worries about the gun getting into their hands. "I don't know," he said. "I just know it had to go."
Hundreds of residents of the Bay Area returned their guns for $200 at two separate buyback events in San Francisco and Oakland on Saturday. At St. Benedict's Church in East Oakland, the line for cars waiting to participate reportedly went on for a mile -- even as nearby, three were wounded in a shooting. Police told NBC that they were expecting to take 300 guns off the street. In San Francisco, the Omega Boys Club drew such a large crowd that people were forced to wait in the rain.
In Baltimore's St. Paul Baptist Church, the "Goods for Guns" programs organized by the police department let residents trade guns for a $100 Klein's ShopRite gift certificate. Geneva McBride told the Baltimore Brew that it wasn't so much about the goods. “Why I really came here was ’cause of those children," she told the Brew. "I want to make sure this never got in the hands of the wrong person.” City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young's office told Patch that 461 guns were returned.
A similar program in Prince George's County, near Washington, D.C., collected more than 150 guns Saturday, Patch reports.
In Evanston, Ill., community organizers had been planning a buyback event ever since a 14-year-old boy named Dajae Coleman was shot and killed while walking down the street with his friends.
The Newtown shooting gave organizers "an even greater sense of urgency" in a community regularly devastated by gun violence, according to the Chicago Tribune.
At the event, people traded over 40 guns for $100 each. “We’ve gotten guns that people weren’t comfortable having,” police chief Richard Eddington told Patch. “If we take these unsecured guns out of circulation, we’ll prevent these accidental shootings."
While community members dumped their guns, some politicians called for more gun control. On Sunday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told "Meet the Press" that Senate Democrats would introduce a renewal of the assault weapons ban on the first day of the 2013 Congress. "Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds?" Feinstein wrote on her campaign website. "These weapons are not for hunting deer -- they’re for hunting people."
Other communities around the country responded in different ways. Jefferson Academy, a school in Washington, D.C., announced it would collect stuffed animals to help comfort the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Across the country in California , Rev. Amy Pringle of St. George's Episcopal Church in La Cañada Flintridge helped organize a vigil where 28 bells were sounded in a playground used by preschoolers. "We needed to come together as a community," Pringle said.
"A lot of people are in church today. They're saying prayers for the people in Connecticut," said Peggy Lindholm, the mother of Marjorie Lindholm, a survivor of the Columbine school massacre. "And those of us who still have children are feeling lucky about that."
Until Friday, Lindholm didn't support tightening restrictions on gun-control, but she says the Connecticut shooting changed her perspective. "I actually think we should have gun control," she said. "I've never thought that. I've changed."