Denver residents who no longer want guns in their homes previously had few options to discard their weapons. However, a new gun buyback program enables people to attend events where they can turn in their guns to RAWtools, a non-profit that transforms the firearms into productive gardening tools. This program has had six buyback events since the spring, with the latest one on August 20 at the Living Water Christian Center Church in Aurora.
“I was looking at how to address the incidents of gun violence that were going up in our city,” says Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who represents the District 5 area that includes much of NE Denver. Sawyer, together with Aurora Councilman Curtis Gardner, created a partnership between the cities of Denver and Aurora to sponsor and fund the events, with additional funding provided by a grant from the Denver Broncos.
“We see suicides, accidents, or violent incidents that escalate because of the presence of firearms,” says Sawyer. “But if we can get those out of homes and off the streets it would be a huge weight off the community, and so the goal of the gun buybacks is harm reduction.”
Connecting with RAWtools was an essential aspect of the program. RAWtools operates from Colorado Springs and has been hosting gun buyback events around the country for nine years. Now they have brought their organization to Denver and Aurora by teaming up with the council members to host events in our communities.
“If you attend the events, you stay in your vehicle with the firearm locked in your backseat or trunk,” says RAWtools Executive Director Mike Martin. “A RAWtools representative will then come to remove the firearm from your vehicle, disarm it at a disabling station, and cut it up at a saw station. After that you get your Visa gift card and you’re free to go.”
The buyback events pay $50 for non-semi-automatic rifles, $150 for handguns or semi-automatic rifles, and $250 for assault firearms. The organization then melts and molds the materials into gardening tools (and some jewelry), and they sell the products on their rawtools.org website.
Martin speaks about the success of the program. “In the first five buybacks we had over 600 firearms that were turned in. We hang in that 120 to 150 range for most buybacks, and that’s typical for municipalities this size.”
People who attend the gun buyback events remain completely anonymous throughout the process. But the program offers attendees a chance to complete a voluntary survey that offers a look at why they had the guns and their motivations for discarding them now.
“The surveys show some frequent reasons people want to get rid of their weapons,” says Councilwoman Sawyer. “Some have kids now and are concerned about having them in the home. Others say they’re experiencing a mental health crisis and they’re concerned that they might harm themselves or others. And we’ve also had some people say the weapon belonged to a family member, but now they’re incarcerated so they don’t want their guns in the house.”
Sawyer also shared some anecdotes from participants that she found especially moving.
“Someone who attended the buyback reported to us later that they suffered a crisis but did not take their own life because they already turned in their gun. And another woman said she was turning in the weapon her son used to kill himself, and she wanted to turn it in while knowing it would get made into a garden tool and go to something greater than herself.”
The program has two more planned gun buyback events. The Montbello buyback on September 17 will be hosted at New Life Christian Church (12505 Elmendorf Pl, Denver, CO 80239). An Aurora event on October 15 will be at Colorado Community Church (14000 E Jewell Ave, Aurora, CO 80012). Visit rawtools.org/events for more information on buyback events.
Front Porch photos by Steve Larson