Undeterred by below-freezing temperatures, dozens of people lined up in cars, trucks and on foot to sell their guns Thursday morning at Turner Field’s Gray Lot. As officers from the Atlanta Police Department and Fulton County Sheriff’s Office looked on, lines formed out to the street as three rows of cars patiently awaited the opportunity to sell weapons for up to $100.
It was a scene that NAACP Atlanta President R.L. White had in mind when he began cultivating the idea for a gun buyback event more than a year before.
“We wanted to have it as close to [Martin Luther] King week as we could, because Dr. King was a man of nonviolence and violence has escalated so much in our neighborhoods,” White said. “People seem to think that they have special power when they have a gun and we want to try to do our best to alleviate some of those situations.”
White, who was joined by Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson, Ebenezer Baptist Church Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock and representatives for a number of Atlanta religious and community organizations, said the gun buyback was just the beginning of the work he and others plan to do to reduce violence in Atlanta.
“We’re just trying to keep people alive,” he said.
As members of NAACP Atlanta doled out cash to the men and smattering of women who came carrying pistols, rifles and shotguns, a smaller group gathered on the sidewalk offering to buy the guns before would-be sellers could enter the parking lot. White decried the actions as “profiteering,” saying the group was looking to buy the guns for cheap with the intent of reselling them at a markup later.
But Dave Roberts, who was among the men on the sidewalk and carried a sign that read “I Buy Guns,” said his hope was simply to “see that old, classic firearms aren’t cut down for political purposes.”
“There’s a lot of antiques that people have had sitting in closets or attics for years that are historically significant,” said Roberts, “and you see these gun buybacks and you see these beautiful old antique firearms being melted down for scrap metal.”
Warnock said that such behavior was indicative of an issue he has seen throughout Georgia, adding that the event was an opportunity to speak out against the possibility of the further easing of gun restrictions in the state.
“The fact that there are others outside of this official gun buyback offering to purchase guns speaks to a larger public policy problem that we have here in Georgia,” he said. “There is this sense among some that somehow our community is safer with the proliferation of guns. We reject that notion. We think that it is reckless public policy.”
The pastor of Dr. King’s former church singled out House Bill 512, which was put forward in May 2013 and would allow guns to be carried in churches, bars and on college campuses in Georgia, as an example of what he called overly “lax” gun laws in the state.
The bill was eventually tabled, but Warnock said he and others will be putting pressure on lawmakers to see that it goes away for good.
“We didn’t ask for guns in our churches,” said Warnock. “Our state legislators, some of them, decided that this was a good idea. We are grateful that that was pushed back, but please know that we will be vigilant on that in this coming legislative season.”
While the issue of gun control has been a hut-button political topic, for some, the gun buyback was simply an opportunity to remove some clutter, make a little money and feel a little safer.
“The bottom line is a lot of people have weapons in their home that they’ve had for a while. Some people don’t even know they’re there until they look in the closet,” said Robert Green, a grandfather who sold two guns at Thursday’s event.
Green said that he had intended to get rid of his guns for some time and jumped at the chance when he heard about the gun buyback on the news.
“I knew I had these weapons around and I anticipated to get rid of them, but you know how it is,” he said. “You think about it and until this came up, they just sat there…But if some kid breaks in [to the house], what happens? He or she has access to a weapon, and it can get in the hands of the wrong person.”
White did not give an official count on how many guns were turned in or how much money was paid, saying that the organization would release that information at a later date. He did, however, say, after getting a $1,000 donation from Fulton County Commissioner Robb Pitts (District 2 At-Large), that the group had paid “thousands” of dollars by 11 a.m.