The event follows a series of shootings in East Tampa (with the most high-profile incident occurring at Club Manilla on 7th Avenue). Police Chief Jane Castor says the idea for the buyback came out of a series of community meetings regarding the outbreak of gun violence.
Castor made the announcement outside the TPD's East Tampa headquarters on 22nd Street. She was joined by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke (the Lightning are contributing $12,500 to the program) and Mary Reynolds, the grandmother of one of those recently slain by a gun in East Tampa, 16-year-old Jamarie Hodges.
Hodges was shot and killed on November 6 while attempting to help a friend who was in a fight, according to police. A warrant has been issued for the suspect; Reynolds begged today that he turn himself in.
Reynolds said she was the caregiver for Jamarie and his two brothers, which she said was hard for a grandmother.
"I had to play the mother role, the father role, and the grandmother role...I raised those three boys to the best of my knowledge. Some people may say I failed in that role, but I only have to answer to God," she said, the pain evident in her voice. She pleaded for those with guns in the neighborhood or their homes to hand the weapons over to the police.
Mayor Buckhorn held a toddler in his arms as he spoke at the podium. " When you can get a gun quicker than you can get a book out of the library, then something is wrong," the mayor said, "and this is a labor of love. It’s about this young man and his future."
Buckhorn has long been a vocal foe of handgun violence, particularly in East Tampa, the heart of the black community in the city. He scoffed when asked why he wasn't a member of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Gun Violence coalition, saying "there's nobody who's been more involved in trying to reduce gun violence in the urban areas than I have," adding that "being on committees, being on letterhead, that's not my thing."
East Tampa businesswoman Diane Hart said the buyback program is essential because of the gun violence that has occurred over the past month. "It's worse than it has been in many years. I haven't seen it like this in a long time," she said.
Hart added that she talked to her 22-year-old son, who told her that young men in the neighborhood say they have to stand their ground when challenged. "It's not like East Tampa vs. West Tampa," she said. "It's 32nd Street vs. 34th Street. I'm talking about two blocks! Rather than fighting, people are taking guns and shooting."
In addition to the main dropoff spot at the Seminole Heights Baptist Church this Satuday, Hart said there will be another dropoff spot at the 29th Street Church of Christ from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with lunch being served from there 11 a.m. to 1 p.m..
For those who can't get to either location, the TPD will also be able to make travel arrangements by calling 813-231-6131.