Gun violence prevention advocate Carolyn Murray speaks to a reporter at the Gun Buyback event.

In November 2012, lifelong Evanston resident and activist Carolyn Murray was planning the city’s first gun buyback program in recent history when her 19-year-old son, Justin, was fatally shot outside of his grandmother’s Evanston home. The tragedy strengthened Murray’s resolve to move forward with the community effort to get guns off the street, and the gun buyback was held less than three weeks after her son’s death.

On Dec. 4, the Evanston Police Department partnered with Murray and Evanston Community Foundation to host the city’s 2021 gun buyback event at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church. The amnesty-based program has taken in more than 300 firearms.

This year, 53 guns and an assortment of ammunition were turned in at Mount Zion Church, 1113 Clark St., by residents of Evanston, Skokie and the north side of Chicago. Residents received $100 for each gun and $50 for ammunition.

Recognizing that gun-related crime is disproportionately higher in Evanston’s Black and lower-income neighborhoods, and that the negative consequences fall on residents who have no link to the violence, Murray said she would like to see increased funding for gun violence prevention programs.

“There is more work to be done,” said Murray, when asked for her thoughts about her fight against gun violence.

“It’s nine years later, and I’m going through the identical situation that I did nine years ago… We were collecting guns, and shortly before the gun buyback, my son was killed… Nine years later, we’re collecting guns, and not even a week ago, there was another fatal shooting, not too far from this church,” she said, referring to the Nov. 28 shooting outside a Mobil gas station in the 1900 block of Green Bay Road that killed 17-year-old Carl Dennison III and wounded four other teens. Evanston police officers confirmed that two of the wounded teens remained hospitalized as of Dec. 4 – one, a 14-year-old girl, in critical condition.

“Obviously, events like these are needed, but we have to strategically start looking at how we handle gun violence. And it’s not so much, ‘Is it in your neighborhood.” It’s in the nation, and it’s in my town, and I wanted to do something about it… This is a community effort. People can turn in guns every day at the police station. But this is the community, today, showing that we want to have an event to sponsor the ending of gun violence,” added Murray.

Interim Police Chief Aretha Barnes said the program “gets the guns off the street. Whether it’s one gun, or five. Today, we had 53 – it gets the guns off the hands of people who may be using them for reasons they’re not intended to be used.”

Chief Barnes said the guns are held in the Evanston Police Department property room before being destroyed.

Carolyn Murray and Pastor Taurus Scurlock. (RoundTable photo)

The Rev. Taurus Scurlock, senior pastor at Mount Zion Baptist Church, told reporters that this is the first time the church has participated in a gun buyback. When asked why the church got involved, Pastor Scurlock said, “Through prayer, and through the congregation, we wanted to move into a new season of serving this community. We’re hoping that things like what happened six days ago won’t happen again.”

Murray said the gun buyback program was funded in 2012 with seed money from generous donors and institutions including Northwestern University, NorthShore University Health System and concerned community members who heard about the tragedy. Reverend Kennth Cherry and Christ Temple Church hosted the first gun buyback event, and went on to host several others over the years.

“The funds are low, so I will be doing some fundraising very soon, so that we will still have money to give to people who are turning in their weapons,” Murray said. “I’m hoping that we can continue with the program.”

Gun violence is widely referred to as a public health epidemic. More than 17,000 people in the U.S. have died this year from firearms, not including suicides, and more than 34,000 people have been injured by guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Data released in 2019 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that although Black men and boys ages 15 to 34 make up just 2% of the nation’s population, they were among 37% of gun homicides that year.

In an interview with the RoundTable, Murray said, “It’s not realistic to say, ‘It only happens in Chicago. Neither is it realistic to say, ‘It only happens in the 5th Ward [of Evanston]. Once it affects our ward, it affects our city. It affects us all, it affects the way people look at our town.

“It’s my way of making a difference. I can’t just let my son be buried and die. The need to do something in our community to end gun violence is never going to die with my son. I’m going to always look to ways of making our streets safer for our youth and our people who are affected by gun violence.”

Heidi Randhava

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.

2 replies on “Gun buyback program gets 53 guns off the street”

  1. You can make donations right now to the Evanston Community Foundation they are currently holding the funds for the Evanston Gun Buy Back.

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