CHICAGO — Last weekend, members of a downstate Illinois pro-gun group drove to Chicago, handed in about 60 weapons to the city’s trade-in program and walked out with more than $6,200 in gift cards.
While the city program is meant to reduce the number of deadly weapons in Chicago, the guns traded in were rusted, damaged and, according to the group, pretty much useless.
Police said the group is taking advantage of a program intended to take firearms off the street. Members of Guns Save Life, in Champaign County, countered that they are putting the money to good use — to purchase ammunition and firearms for a youth program that teaches gun safety and marksmanship. The group also traded in BB guns and starter pistols.
“We just took advantage of Chicago’s induced, artificial market on rusty junk,” said John Boch, the group’s president.
The city collected 5,500 weapons at city churches June 23. Police handed out out a $100 gift card per firearm and a $10 gift card for a BB gun or replica.
Guns Save Life has done the same thing twice before, and most of the weapons are of little value and are collecting dust in the closet of members or relatives. Boch said the guns were so beaten and worn that one of them, a shotgun, broke while being inspected by a police officer. The group did not get a gift card for that gun.
“Some of them are about 100 years old,” he said. “They are rusty. Some have been in fires. It’s just junk.”
A few of the guns did work, Boch said, but they were damaged or could malfunction and would be dangerous to use.
Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, which was not involved in the Guns Save Life effort, applauded the concept.
“I’m sure these kids are going to have a great time with Chicago’s money,” he said. Pearson added that he believes the city program, which has a “no questions asked” policy, is a dumping ground for criminals trying to ditch guns used in crimes. Police destroy the guns they collect.
Police were not pleased.
“There’s a ripple effect following every shooting incident that we all feel. We host the gun turn-in event on an annual basis to encourage residents to turn in their guns so that we take firearms off our streets, and it’s unfortunate that this group is abusing a program intended to increase the safety of our communities,” police spokeswoman Melissa Stratton said in an email.