GARY | Obadiah Wilson said his congregants in the city's Tolleston neighborhood worry about their safety and that of their family members, in large part because of the number of guns on the streets.
"That's got to change, and we are a part of that," Wilson said.
Wilson's Grace Unity Church of God in Christ, 3435 W. 21st Ave., was one of five city churches partnering with the Gary Police Department on Saturday for a gun buy-back event. The program allows people to turn in firearms, no questions asked.
Those who turned in handguns, shotguns and rifles received a $50 Walmart gift card. Assault rifle donations resulted in a $100 Walmart gift card.
Wilson said his church has served as a collection site each time the city has asked.
"One less gun off the streets could be one life saved," Wilson said.
Even though the program has a no-questions-asked policy, people bringing guns to the church often share information about why they brought the weapons in, Wilson said.
"Some people said they have kids in the house and don't want the guns around, which is a blessing," he said. "Sometimes a relative had it and they've passed on and the people don't want it in the home."
Cpl. Nina Evans, of the Gary Police Department, was stationed at Grace Unity Church of God in Christ for the event and said the program is making a difference.
"We definitely have had reports of shots fired in this neighborhood," Evans said. "(The buy-back program) helps us out a lot. A lot of guns have hit the streets, and even one less gun makes a big difference."
Evans said people often think having a gun in the home will protect them, but Gary officers have noticed a trend with a string of residential burglaries she believes proves that theory false.
"We've had a lot of break-ins, and the first thing they go for is the gun," Evans said. "Those guns aren't protecting anybody at that point. They're going on to commit more crimes."
According to Chelsea Whittington, spokeswoman for the city, 68 guns were turned in Saturday. The weapons included 51 handguns, 12 rifles, four shotguns and one assault rifle.
Gary police have recovered more than 500 guns through buy-back programs, traffic stops and other investigations in 2012, Whittington said.