by Rob Taylor Jr. , Courier Staff Writer
Fifty guns was a reasonable expectation. Seventy-five would be exceeding expectations. One hundred? Now that’s downright awesome.
So, you could imagine the reaction of Pastor Torrey O. Johnson and the rest of the members of The Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood when upwards of 150 guns were taken off the streets during the church’s gun buyback event, held on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 20.
Even before the doors to the church opened at 10 a.m., a line had formed outside with people seeking to turn in their guns. The church was offering people up to $100 per gun, as officials from the Pittsburgh Police Department handled the confiscation of the guns.
By 10:45 a.m., the roughly $5,000 budgeted to give out to people for their guns was gone. Many people undeterred, they still turned in guns without the need for compensation—others, such as state Rep. Ed Gainey, made financial donations to the church during the event, with the money going to those who turned in guns.
Church officials told the New Pittsburgh Courier that a total of 148 guns were turned in. Of the 148 guns, 44 were classified as “long guns,” including both an AK-47 and AR-15 assault-style weapon.
“We planned this gun buyback assuming that we would get a certain amount of number of guns, and we overextended that plan in less than 40 minutes,” Rev. Johnson told assembled media at the event.
“This is God at work,” Minister Guy Brown of the Episcopal Lutheran Alliance told WPXI-TV. “This is God telling us we’re doing the right thing.”
A Courier analysis of data from Allegheny County homicide statistics shows that in 2018 and 2019, a total of 205 individuals were killed. Of those 205, 151 (74 percent) were African Americans. The vast majority of the African Americans killed were due to gun violence. But officials at The Church of the Holy Cross wanted to hold the gun buyback event on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day because of Dr. King’s aversion to violence.
“Dr. King said it’s non-violence or non-existence,” Rev. Johnson told the assembled media. “Either we go up together or we go down together, and part of what we’re doing is to try to make this community safer.”
On Nov. 13, 2019, 26-year-old Kierra Eddisha Harris and 29-year-old Lavon Sizemore were killed in a double homicide just feet from the church, at Kelly and Collier streets. A memorial still can be seen where the two people were shot, diagonally across from the church.
“People need to know that it’s OK for us as a whole to start loving one another,” Minister Brown told the Courier. “People are tired of hate, people are tired of violence, so if you’re thinking that you gotta be strong, no…be strong and be loving. That’s strength.”
Homewood resident Kenneth brought in multiple weapons. He told the Courier he had a bunch of hunting weapons, but he rarely hunts these days. “I think it’s a great thing (the event),” he said. “Get these guns off the streets and cut down some of this madness out here.”
Kenneth said guns are getting in the wrong hands—young people. “You have a lot of little young folks that never shot, don’t know anything about a gun, and you put a gun in their hands and their whole attitude turns different,” he said.
Sylvia Wilson, senior warden of The Church of the Holy Cross and Pittsburgh Public Schools Board president, called the event “an overwhelming success…in Virginia today, they’re marching, wanting people to keep their guns on Martin Luther King Day. This is the antithesis.”
Wilson told the Courier about an older woman who came to the event and turned in a gun. “She said, ‘I might die and I don’t want anyone to come in my house and find this gun and then use it against somebody else, so I want to bring this gun in now.’”
Wilson noticed the people who seemed not to care about getting compensation for their guns. Yes, compensation for guns was helpful, but overall, Wilson said she could feel the people turning in guns were doing it for a higher meaning.
“It sends a message that we are tired of people’s lives being taken for granted,” Wilson told the Courier. “A life has worth. We just want to stop senseless killing for dumb reasons. We’re not at war with our own people. Our lives are precious.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: PASTOR TORREY O. JOHNSON of The Church of the Holy Cross in Homewood.)