Two weeks after her 19-year-old son, Justin, was shot and killed, Carolyn Murray stood at Christ Temple MB Church in Evanston, watching as dozens of people turned over rifles and handguns during the city’s first gun buyback program.
In a tragic irony, Murray actually started trying to organize a gun buyback last summer, months before her son’s death. When 14-year-old Dajae Coleman was shot and killed in September, the city got behind her efforts, and a date was set: Dec. 15.
In the three months between Coleman’s death and this Saturday’s gun buyback, there have been two more fatal shootings, including Justin’s death, and one shooting that left a 20-year-old Evanston man hospitalized in critical condition. Police say the most recent shootings are part of an extended family feud that may have started with a shooting at the Keg in 2005—and they believe there could be still more violence to come.
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The gun buyback ran from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday. Evanston police photographed and catalogued the guns one by one before they are to be inventoried and eventually destroyed, organizers say.
By 2 p.m., police had collected more than 30 weapons. Murray says she would have been happy with one fewer gun on the streets, but the results were a step in the right direction.
“We no longer live in Mayberry,” said Murray. “Our town needs a makeover. Churches, parents, the community, the police—we need to come together.”
The gun buyback program, she said, was just one part of what Evanston could be doing to prevent further violent deaths. A longtime member of the West Evanston Strategic Team community group, Murray said change must start block by block.
“I would like people to get involved in their community, in their block,” she said. “If you weren’t active before, now is the time to start.”
As gun owners trickled in to collect the $100 offered for each weapon, Chief Richard Eddington said he, too, was pleased with the program’s results so far.
“We’ve gotten guns that people weren’t comfortable having,” he said, adding that unsecured guns can lead to accidents that kill or injure children. “If we take these unsecured guns out of circulation, we’ll prevent these accidental shootings."
When they’re not properly stored in a safe, guns are also a prime target for burglars, Eddington said.
“If you’re in the house for a minute, these are extremely valuable items to criminals,” he said.
While the program was designed to get guns off the streets, Eddington said he hoped it would have a secondary effect: building credibility for the police in the community. As officials had promised, the gun buyback was operated as an amnesty program, meaning no one was arrested, even if they turned in a weapon for which they did not have legal ownership.
“It is a building block to our continuing drive to obtain and maintain credibility in the community,” he said.
Rev. Kenneth Cherry, of Christ Temple MB Church, said that hosting the gun buyback was part of his church’s service to the community.
“The general sense of the congregation is that the church has a responsibility to pray and to find a course of action,” he said.
Cherry, who gave Justin Murray’s eulogy two weeks ago, said that through his work in the community, he knew almost everyone who had been shot and killed that year. Dajae Coleman’s father is a member of his congregation, he said, and he knew the mother of the man who was shot and critically injured last Saturday.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “If we can get one gun from being used in a violent crime, it’s successful.”