HOUSTON — The city of Houston’s first annual gun buyback event drew hundreds of people on Saturday.
Lines of cars could be seen wrapped around the block at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in southeast Houston where the event was held. Officials collected 845 guns and say they gave out nearly $100,000 in gift cards throughout the event.
"I got a shotgun and a .32,” said Marvin Washington.
"It's an old .22, but it’s like 50 years old, but it's been laying around,” said Brian Carr.
Community members surrendering their firearms had different back stories but shared one common goal.
"Man, it is so crazy out here. The more guns we get off the streets the better it is, trying to get something positive done,” said Washington.
"It's too much crime going right now. We just thought we could do whatever we can to help,” said Carr.
That’s exactly what city leaders are hoping to accomplish.
"We used best practices to plan and hold today's event. I did not know what to expect, and the turnout was overwhelming," said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. "The turnout demonstrates there are too many guns on our streets, and people want to get them out of their possession. The gun buyback is not the only solution, but we can and will make our streets safer and help reduce gun violence."
The don’t ask, don’t tell buyback program is one of the latest efforts under Mayor Turner's "One Safe Houston" initiative to combat violent crime. The event was put on in collaboration with the Houston Police Department and Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
“This 9-millimeter is one of the guns that’s been taken in, we’ve taken in ghost guns, rifles, automatics. The program is working, gift cards being handed out,” Mayor Turner said.
For each gun surrendered, gift cards of up to $200 were given out.
The overwhelming turnout also drew out people trying to buy guns from those in the line, something Mayor Turner directly addressed.
"There were some people going up and down the lines saying we will pay you more than the city and the county are willing to pay you, with no background checks, and mind you, it’s not necessarily illegal and that’s a loophole in the process,” he said.
The setback couldn’t overshadow the program’s success.
"I knew it was going to be a lot but even I didn't think this many people on the first time,” said Houston Police Chief Troy Finner.
City leaders say another gun buyback event is already in the works.