CINCINNATI -- If there were fewer guns in Cincinnati, would the city experience fewer shootings and violent crime?
In 2012, Project Nehemiah took over CeaseFire, a former City of Cincinnati initiative aimed at reducing gun violence. Since then, it’s held four events during which it gives out $100 gift cards in exchange for firearms. At the first buyback in July 2012, CeaseFire collected 145 guns. Now, four years later, it has collected a total of about 400 guns, Tait said.
Those have included shotguns, handguns, guns that mothers found in their children's dresser drawers, guns found in abandoned homes and guns found hidden around the neighborhood. They are accepted, no questions asked, then turned over to the police department, which checks to see if they’ve been used in a crime and if not, destroys them, Tait said.
CeaseFire plans to hold another buyback Feb. 12 at Truth & Destiny Covenant Ministries, 2645 W. North Bend Road, in Mount Airy. The date was chosen, Tait said, because it’s the birthday of a famous victim of gun violence: Abraham Lincoln.
The gun buybacks are one of several ways Project Nehemiah calls attention to the problem of gun violence. The nonprofit also organizes monthly “stop the violence” rallies and marches that typically end at the site of a shooting. It also organizes classes in local schools on resisting violence and dealing with bullying without using violence.
Because of his advocacy, Tait has become one of the go-to guys when local reporters need a quote about gun violence in the city. Here’s what he had to say at the scene of a fatal gun battle in East Westwood in 2015:
“We refuse to let people become immune to it. We don’t have to accept this kind of behavior. We don’t have to accept this kind of lifestyle. We can live in peace, if everybody does their part.”
It’s not an issue many preachers would touch, especially those who pastor in suburban or rural churches. Tait got involved because he became alarmed at how many African-American youths were either being killed or put in jail -- and because he has teenage children of his own.
“People can’t imagine how bad it is,” he said. “It’s a true war. It’s similar to ISIS and the Taliban -- an enemy you can’t see.”
He’s not the only community leader doing something about it. In 2015, Deer Park City Council member Charles Tassell and former West End state Rep. Dale Mallory started Street Rescue, another gun buyback program.
Tassell said they started their program after learning about the concept of community guns from a WCPO.com article. Community guns are guns hidden in an accessible spot so that anyone can use the gun -- but people aren't carrying a gun with them in case they are stopped by law enforcement.
The program works like CeaseFire, with gift cards given for guns, but the guns Project Rescue collects that aren’t stolen are given to federally licensed gun dealers for resale. The money earned goes back into the program, making it about 70 percent self-sustaining, Tassell said.
Tassell and Mallory were especially interested in collecting so-called community guns, which are concealed in neighborhood hiding places for any criminal to use. They originally envisioned ending the program in October 2016 after a year of monthly buyback events.
But they only did six buybacks before suspending the program last fall because it was election season, Tassell said, and “everyone got weird about it, because it seemed political.”
They plan to resume buybacks, probably later this month at a local church, he said, possibly in Lockland, Lincoln Heights or Walnut Hills. He thinks the program will continue as long as the money holds out; Street Rescue has about $1,000 in the bank, he said.
Street Rescue has collected more than 50 guns so far, he said, plus more than 100 rounds. He estimated that from one-third to one-half of the guns collected so far have been community guns.
A frequent criticism of gun buyback programs is that they don’t produce guns likely to be used in a crime. A 2005 report from the National Research Council found that they tend to be either old, malfunctioning guns with little resale value or guns that the owners don’t value personally, such as inherited guns.
And because there are just so many guns out there, it’s hard for a buyback program to make a dent in the number on the street. The Washington Post reported that as of 2013, the United States had about 40 million more civilian firearms that it had people to carry them.
On top of that, U.S. gun manufacturers keep making more. Production was up from 5.6 million in 2009 to 10.9 million in 2013.
Tait doesn’t dispute that it seems like he’s fighting a losing battle and he recognizes that most law enforcement officers don’t think buybacks reduce crime. In fact, he agrees with them -- they don’t.
But they do raise awareness of the problem, he said, and help get the community engaged.
“We have to take the stance that it’s one gun at a time,” he said. “If we take that stance, we’re not discouraged or overwhelmed.”