Colorado church becomes ‘firearms recycling center’

It’s a “firearms recycling center.” 

That’s what the Rev. Sarah Verasco, senior minister of United Church of Christ, Longmont, Colo., is calling her church after a gun buyback day Sept. 25. 

Karina Doyle and John Parsons using a chop saw to disable guns at Longmont United Church of Christ’s gun buyback event.

“In Longmont, you can bring metal scraps for recycling and get money for it,” Verasco said. So the church gave gun donors gift cards for surrendering the weapons, the amount commensurate with the firepower of the gun being recycled.  

The event collected 21 semi-automatic handguns and 45 rifles. Some gun parts were melted down into garden tools. Others were given to two metal artists. In other words, recycled. 

Response to community massacre

The Longmont congregation is the second in the UCC’s Rocky Mountain Conference to hold such an event in response to the massacre at the King Soopers grocery store in nearby Boulder in March. 

On June 13Community United Church of Christ in Boulder collected and dismantled dozens of weapons. That church is just down the street from King Soopers. 

Both events were in collaboration with the Colorado Springs-based non-profit Raw Tools and were supported with $3,000 solidarity grants from UCC Global H.O.P.E., part of Wider Church Ministries. Disaster Response and Recovery, Refugee and Migration, Volunteer and Sustainable Development ministries are all part of Global H.O.P.E.

Parts from the 45 rifles and 21 handguns collected and dismantled Sept. 25 at Longmont UCC.

Raw Tools left a chop saw at the Longmont and Boulder churches, so they can receive and dismantle firearms all year long. “More people have phoned to ask whether they can still bring guns to the church,” Verasco said. “The answer is yes, by appointment. Sept. 25 was not meant to be a one-time event.” 

The Longmont church is serious about taking weapons off the street. In July, the congregation gave away 137 biometric gun safes at an event at the Longmont Public Safety Department, right after Colorado passed a new gun safe law in the wake of the King Soopers massacre. 

“All this is absolutely replicable,” Verasco said. 

More actions ahead

Now the Longmont church is planning a combined safe storage and firearms recycling event especially for veterans and their families, sometime before the end of the year. The event will honor veterans and recognize their high rate of self-harm and gun suicide. 

Verasco also said a Denver UCC congregation is planning a gun buyback event by year’s end.  

In addition, several UCC congregations in the Rocky Mountain Conference are active advocates and educators for gun safety. Among them is First Congregational UCC, Boulder

Carol Young is a leader of First Congregational’s work on gun violence. She said the church is an active member and promoter of Colorado Faith Communities United to End Gun Violence, which lists more than 40 member congregations statewide. 

“We established a Boulder subgroup of CFCU,” Young said. “Five congregations meet regularly. My passion is to build that group.”  

CFCU has a rapid response network, and whenever a legislative issue comes up, they publicize it, Young said. “First Congregational has about 35 members in that network.”  

Young said Boulder congregations plan to remember victims of gun violence in their services in December, with a community event in the works for March 2022. 

The Rev. Sue Artt, UCC Rocky Mountain Conference minister, praised engaged churches’ “acts of outrageous peacemaking, in positive response to the act of outrageous violence.” 

“The UCC and the Rocky Mountain Conference are grateful for these leaders and their communities, who are striving each and every day to heal a hurting world” and to “bring peace and solace to the community so wounded by this act of violence,” Artt said.

‘Harm reduction’ commitment

Verasco said the involvement of the 300-strong Longmont congregation results from its “longtime commitment to harm reduction, rooted in a theological commitment to nonviolence.” 

Raw Tools’ Fred Martin and Julie Nosek turning a gun part into a garden tool.

That harm reduction has taken multiple forms. “We showed up as open and affirming when it was risky,” Verasco said. “We donated land for housing for people with disabilities and low incomes.”. 

The gun safety events were “the perfect opportunity to meet people where they were on gun ownership,” she said, just as “Jesus met people where they were, with grace. 

“If they wanted a gun we gave them a gun safe. If they didn’t want any or so many guns, we offered a safe, easy, anonymous way to dispose of them.” 

Gun safety survey responses

Interactions with people at the Sept. 25 event showed that “not everyone feels safe with a gun in their home,” Verasco said. So did a survey, filled out by 33 people, for an 82-percent response rate:

  • 73 percent of respondents indicated they were turning in guns for safety reasons.
  • 20 people indicated that they didn’t want/need the gun.
  • 2 indicated that family members asked them to turn in the gun.
  • 5 noted concern about children getting access to the gun.
  • 3 noted a bad experience with firearms for them or someone they knew.
  • 3 people inherited weapons and did not want them.

The data were substantiated in conversations, including with:

  • A man in his 40s, motivated by his 12-step addiction recovery work. “He had removed alcohol and drugs from his life and now a gun from his home,” Verasco said. 
     
  • A man who turned in several guns. He said his father gave him his first gun for camping. Ten years ago, his son told him, “We kids found that gun, picked the lock and played with it.” 
     
  • “A young man who came at the very end had guns he inherited from his father but didn’t really want. Because he was the last person, we let him get out of his car to watch the chopping process up close. He was visibly moved. The guns had been a burden to him and he was able to let them go.” 
     
  • Many people who came to turn in guns and thanked Longmont UCC, saying, “Please do it again.” “They are concerned about the safety of their children and grandchildren now.” 

A ministry of healing

The event was healing for many of the 45 volunteers. “One, a Vietnam veteran who suffers from PTSD, said, for him, getting rid of guns was part of his therapy, reducing harm in the community,” Verasco said.

Part of the volunteer team from the Longmont UCC gun buyback event Sept. 25.

“This type of ministry has been percolating for me for a long time,” she said. “I was in a neighboring community when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., took place. Now I am in Longmont and the mass shooting in Boulder happened just a few miles away.” 

The Longmont church invested $25,000 and partnered with others to raise, in addition, more than $23,000 for future harm reduction initiatives. 

“We also partnered with Out Boulder County for the Safe Storage Project, recognizing that the LGBTQ community is disproportionately affected by gun violence and self-harm,” Verasco said. 

Community UCC Boulder has been “very generous in sharing with us learnings from its event,” she said. “They gave us gift cards for our event. We’ll do same for the Denver church and contribute volunteers if they need them.”

The September event included a community celebration, with an opportunity for volunteers to relax – and to help beat gun parts into garden tools.  

Categories: Disaster Updates United Church of Christ News

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