Officials hope Albany's "Gifts for Guns Buy Back Program" will take more guns out of the local community.
The traditional buyback initiative headed by the team of Albany County and Pastor Charlie Muller of Victory Christian Church has been augmented.
St. Peter’s Health Partners has joined the program for 2017 with a $10,000 donation. Albany Memorial CEO Virginia Golden says it's personal. "For everyone at St. Peter's Health Partners, the danger and destruction and heartbreak caused by illegal guns, drew sharply into focus earlier this year. Gun violence shook our family in June when a beloved Albany Memorial Hospital colleague, Terrence 'Deke' Roberts, was murdered with an illegal handgun in downtown Albany. Deke, who was only 46 years old, was shot on Father's Day after intervening to stop an argument at an annual neighborhood cookout that he helped to organize. Also this year, I'm sure you're aware there was a shooting at Crossgates Mall, and one of our colleagues was there with her grandchild, and came back to tell us of the horror of that moment when she was running for her life along with her grandchild. Illegal guns have no place in our community."
The Albany County Sheriff kicked in $4,000 and the Capital Gun Group has contributed $3,000. District Attorney David Soares says that equates to 125 guns off the streets of Albany and Troy. Soares recounted how the loss of a young life inspired the gun buyback program: On May 29, 2008, a 10-year-old named Kathina Thomas was shot and killed in front of her home on a city street in broad daylight, by a bullet intended for someone else. "And at that time, as most of you will remember, the issue of the 'community gun' became part of our common vernacular. We hadn't heard much about it before, but because of that tragedy, it became commonplace for us to talk about guns that were being shared by a number of people, and that were being secreted in houses and basements and abandoned buildings."
From that tragedy, the DA partnered with Pastor Muller to create the ENOUGH Gun Buy Back program. Muller says word quickly spread throughout the community. The program works. "Just last week I got a call. A young gentleman called. He has a .38 caliber and he wants to get it in as quick as he can. And that's even before the program's start. So with this thrust we'll be able to not only do Christmas but go into the year strong," said Muller, who recalled another instance where a man was given five gift cards in exchange for an M16 assault rifle.
Over time and as additional partners signed on, more than 650 guns have been removed from the streets. Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple: "The point of interest here is everybody's always like 'well, do you think this is making your community safer, and how do you prove that? How do you measure success?' And I often say 'we don’t have anything really tangible to say that this is a great successful program and we're keeping people safe.' But I can tell you what we are doing is we're eliminating the opportunity to access that weapon and hurt somebody, rob somebody, kill somebody."
- Rensselaer County residents can visit the Victorious Life Church at 1838 5th Avenue, Troy, on the first four Saturdays of December from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to exchange illegal guns for gift cards.
- Starting December 1st, anyone in Albany County looking to exchange illegal guns for $150 Crossgates Mall gift cards can call Pastor Muller. "That's 518-434-6100. We're collecting guns not only on Saturday, but every day of the week. Call that number 518-434-6100. You'll get someone live on the phone."
“The compassion and desire for healthier communities displayed by St. Peter’s Health Partners, the Sheriff and Capital Gun Group should be a call to action for others looking to make a difference. As we have witnessed over and over again in our country, no one is immune from gun violence. However, when we all stand together to remove these illegal guns from our communities, we are all are doing our part to prevent these tragedies from occurring,” commented DA Soares.