Anyone with an unwanted gun in their home and in search of a way to get rid of it will have a chance to trade it in for a free gift card this weekend.
The Sumter Police Department is holding an anonymous gun buy back event Saturday in hopes of getting potentially deadly weapons out of the hands of those who might use them to commit crimes. And they will be offering complementary Walmart gift cards in exchange for the firearms.
Officers will collect guns at two locations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. All guns can be turned in anonymously, no questions asked, officials said.
This will be the first gun buy back Sumter police have held in four years. The last buy back event in 2009 removed 32 weapons from circulation.
"We've been considering doing this for quite some time, but we wanted to be able to provide something of value for the guns," said Sumter Police Chief Russell Roark.
Officers found their incentive in the form of a pre-loaded gift card. The police department received a grant from Walmart and redeemed it for gift cards in several different amounts, which will be handed out in exchange for different types of weapons.
Someone turning in a handgun will receive a $50 Walmart gift card. A long gun can be traded in for a $25 Walmart gift card, and an assault weapon will get you a gift card worth $100 (while supplies last).
Two area churches will act as drop-off locations. Officers will collect guns simultaneously at Alice Drive Baptist Church, 1305 Loring Mill Road, and Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, 325 W. Fulton St.
Mount Zion's the Rev. James Blassingame said he's glad to host the buy back event in his church's Enrichment Center.
"I've worked with the police department and the sheriff's department. I feel that the church should be a partner with law enforcement," Blassingame said. "This can help make a difference in the community."
Law enforcement thinks these buy back events can prevent firearms from being stolen or otherwise used in criminal activity. Taking the guns out of circulation can remove a threat to both the household and the community at large.
"We want to make sure these weapons are safe and secure, if the individuals don't want them," Roark said.
Some gun owners might have inherited weapons from someone else and have no desire to keep the weapons. Others may simply be nervous about keeping them around.
"There are elderly folks with no one to pass their weapons on to. The worst-case scenario is that these weapons are used against them, or that someone has a weapon taken from them."
Either way, "we want to keep that weapon from falling into the wrong hands."
Blassingame also sees a need to address the misuse of guns in Sumter.
"There's a lot of gun violence in our community, and not just on the southside," he said.
That violence can be mitigated, the pastor said, "when law enforcement takes proactive, preventive measures."
Alice Drive Baptist also looks at the buy back as a way to serve the community.
"Anytime we can do something with the sheriff's office or the police department, we try to help them out," said Alice Drive Administrative Pastor Mark Partin. "We want to do our part to make Sumter a better place."
Blassingame echoed those sentiments.
"We follow the same page," he said. "We're concerned with making this a better place to live and work."
Anyone bringing a weapon to the drop-off is asked to transport the gun unloaded in the trunk of a car with the breech or chamber open, and point it in a safe direction at all times.
For more information about the gun buy back event, contact the Sumter Police Department Crime Prevention Unit at (803) 436-2723.