Baton Rouge officials on Wednesday announced plans to hold the parish’s second “Gas for Guns” program after last year’s inaugural event removed more than 260 unwanted guns from city streets.
Several law enforcement agencies will man two stations at local churches from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Nov. 19, collecting guns and doling out gas cards worth up to $300, Mayor-President Kip Holden said.
The no-questions-asked program encourages people with unused or unsecured guns to turn them over, ensuring the weapons stay out of the hands of criminals who could steal them or youths who might take them without their parents’ knowledge, Holden said.
Officials also encouraged parents or grandparents who know their relatives have guns illegally to exchange the weapons for gas cards.
“Parents, you know what kids have guns,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said. “Take them. Get them out of hands where they could cause harm.”
The drop-off points will be at Living Faith Christian Center, 6375 Winbourne Ave., and Glen Oaks Baptist Church, 7200 Maplewood Drive.
Holden emphasized the program is not seeking to “take guns from the hands of gun owners.”
“We’re not looking for legal gun owners to hand over their guns,” Holden said. “But unsecured weapons are dangerous. Turn it in and get something everyone can use.”
Holden said officers typically seize about 1,000 guns from the streets during the year. To get more than 260 in one day, he said, “goes a long way in making the streets safer.”
Moore said one of the biggest surprises from last year’s event was receiving 12 assault-style rifles, including AK-47s, a 12 gauge Streetsweeper and a Mac-45.
Moore said these semi-automatic rifles are most preferred by criminals and can be the most deadly.
With that in mind, officials upped the amount offered this year for each assault rifle from $200 to $300.
The rifle must be a functional variant of an automatic or semiautomatic rifle that is currently in use by military forces with a caliber of 9 mm, 7.62 mm or 5.56 mm.
A semiautomatic pistol or revolver smaller than .38 caliber can be exchanged for a $50 gas coupon at either of the two participating churches. Semiautomatic pistols and revolvers that are .38 caliber or greater can be swapped for $100 in gas coupons.
Donors arriving by car should place their firearms in the trunk, so that the law enforcement officers can unload them at the church.
Those arriving by truck or on foot should place their firearms in a sealed or closed container, such as a bag, backpack or box.
Bishop Raymond Johnson of Living Faith Christian Center said he’ll spread the word of the program to his congregation and nearby churches to encourage congregation members to participate in the program.
“Parents are aware when their kids have guns but they might just need some good, positive community pressure to turn it in,” Johnson said. “Or ordinarily they wouldn’t go to the police with the gun, but this shows them they don’t have to be afraid.”
Officials have a total of $33,400 to use for the program, funded through a donation from the Circle K corporation and matching funds provided from cash obtained in drug seizures by law enforcement.
Earl Shick, Circle K regional operations director, said he proposed the “Gas for Guns” program to Holden after seeing its success in Memphis, Tenn., when he lived there.
Last year’s program yielded 262 guns, two of which were found to be stolen, for a total cost of $16,600 in gas cards.
Sheriff Sid Gautreaux said at last year’s event that though some called the program ineffective, he considers it a success.
“Will this drastically reduce homicides? Probably not. But if we can even prevent one death from collecting these guns, it will all be worth it,” Gautreaux said.