With every vehicle that pulled into the church parking lot Saturday, the pile of guns grew larger.
Sawed-off shotguns, .22-caliber handguns, old hunting rifles — all turned in voluntarily.
Some people did it to make their homes and communities safer, others said the weapons no longer worked.
Either way, each gun garnered $50 with no questions asked.
The collection was part of the Tampa Police Department’s “Save our sons, turn in your guns” event aimed at keeping guns off the streets. Police stationed at the Seminole Heights Baptist Church collected more than 1,000 guns.
“Every gun we get off the streets is one less potential fatality,” Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.
The event comes after a spate of shootings in Ybor City and East Tampa claimed the lives of several young men.
Later Saturday, 65 residents turned out at Greater Mount Carmel AME Church in East Tampa church for a march against drugs and violence.
“This gun is made to kill people,” Buckhorn said as he examined an illegal sawed-off shotgun that had been surrendered. “This epidemic of violence, of black on black crime, has got to be stopped.”
As an incentive, the Tampa Bay Lightning donated $12,500 for police officers to exchange for guns.
Kelly Curtis and Sarah Kocab, widows of police Officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab, who were shot and killed in the line of duty last year, came to the event to show their support.
“Sarah (Kocab) and I are both victims of gun violence,” Curtis said. “If this helps make the job of law enforcement on the night shift a little bit easier, then it’s a huge success.”
Curtis donated $5,000 from her new foundation, Curtis First Responders Treasure Box. Curtis formed the foundation after she witnessed the community’s outpouring of support toward her family after her husband’s death. She hopes officers can be shown the same appreciation while they are alive, she said.
The turnout forced Tampa police to make a bank run in the middle of the buyback, said spokeswoman Janelle McGregor.
Many of the people who turned in their guns didn’t know what else to do.
Ken LaCroix of Oldsmar wasn’t sure how to handle his broken .22-caliber handgun.
“I didn’t want to sell it to somebody and have them get hurt because of it,” he said.
The situation was similar for Beth Dearmond of Tampa. She came into possession of a rifle when her father-in-law died and didn’t want to keep it.
“It was just sitting up in the attic,” Dearmond said.
Any guns suspected of being used in a crime will be examined, police Maj. Kenneth Morman said. Most will be destroyed.
“It’s time,” Buckhorn said, “to put this stuff in the incinerator where it belongs.”
At the march, the group clad in green T-shirts carried signs with slogans such as “Guns are a no no” and “Guns + Hate = Death.” The 1.3 mile walk started and ended at Greater Mount Carmel at 4209 N 34th St.
Leaders with bullhorns urged the crowd to chant “Save our children, save our babies” and “No more crack in Rainbow Heights.”
Tampa Police Maj. Gerald Honeywell encouraged the marchers continue the effort by becoming mentors.
He told senior citizens they weren’t exempt from the call to improve the community. “In this day and age you can’t retire,” he explained. “We are all the difference makers.”
St. Petersburg Times