A 63-year-old grandmother arrived at her local fire station Saturday with a .38 revolver in her bag, looking to get rid of a handgun she no longer wants to keep in the house.
The longtime north Minneapolis resident wanted to exchange it for a Visa gift card during a city-sponsored buyback program that invited residents to surrender firearms at two fire stations, no questions asked. The buyback, which had been intended to run until 6 p.m., closed down before noon after organizers from the nonprofit Pillsbury United Communities ran out of money, having handed out more than $25,000 in gift cards for about 150 guns.
The woman arrived at 12:30 p.m. and was dismayed by the possibility that she’d have to hold onto the gun. She bought it more than 20 years ago as a single mother living in a crime-ridden neighborhood.
“I’m not fond of guns,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified for safety reasons. “I’ve been wanting to get rid of it for years.”
Chanda Smith Baker, president of Pillsbury United Communities, walked her to a nearby gas station ATM and withdrew $200 of her own money to facilitate the sale.
The weapons gathered Saturday will be decommissioned and given to Twin Cities artists to create pieces focused on the impact of gun violence, part of a campaign called “Art Is My Weapon: a Minnesota Installation of Guns in the Hands of Artists.”
Gun violence is a personal issue for Smith Baker, a lifelong North Sider, whose cousin was fatally shot as he entered his house in 2011.
“It was a terrible period for us. I am acutely aware of the emotional toll and the rippling impact it has on family and friends,” she said. “We need to be accountable for what’s in our homes and what’s in our community. The solution sits with all of us.”
People turning in firearms were allowed to do so anonymously and received $15 to $300 gift cards, depending on the type of gun. After the cards ran out, vouchers were distributed to 20 to 30 people remaining in line at the south Minneapolis location. They’ll be mailed payment for surrendered weapons.
The event also attracted several private firearms buyers who stood outside the fire stations promising more money for some weapons, and profiting after the buyback ran low on funds.
Gun collector Paul Joat drove from Chisago County to scope out what people brought in. He conducted two purchases on the street, for a rifle and shotgun for $175.
“A lot of what I’m seeing is gun nuts turning in their guns for more than they’re worth,” Joat said of those at the buyback.
Others criticized the event for failing to attract the kind of firearms typically used in shootings. “There are police here,” said Phillip Murphy, owner of a North Side flower shop. “The bad guys know that and aren’t coming.”
Smith Brown called the private sales “disappointing,” but disputed the accounts of those outside.
“A lot of naysayers will say it’s a bunch of junk, and you get inoperable weapons or rusty ol’ grandpa’s weapon — that’s not what we saw today,” she said, adding that they experienced longer lines and higher-caliber surrenders than expected. Among them were assault weapons, hunting rifles, automatics and handguns, she said.
Long after the buyback closed, a Brainerd man stood nearby with a cardboard sign reading “Will Pay More 4 Guns.” He said he was hoping to buy some antique weapons with historical value. He typically only asks sellers for an ID and their permit to carry.
Under Minnesota law, a person other than a federally licensed dealer can legally make a street sale.
“It’s not unlike anything you see on Craigslist,” he said. “You don’t know that a TV or radio isn’t stolen.”