By Gina Christian
(OSV News) — A Chicago priest plans to celebrate his birthday by giving out cash: $100 for handguns, and $200 for working assault-style weapons.
On May 22, Father Michael Pfleger, senior pastor of St. Sabina Parish on Chicago’s South Side, will host his annual “Gun Turn In.”
The event allows gun owners to anonymously exchange weapons for cash, with no questions asked and the firearms immediately turned over to the Chicago Police. Guns with serial numbers that do not match outstanding evidence warrants will be destroyed.
Following the buyback, Father Pfleger will stand at a busy intersection about a block from St. Sabina, holding a sign that reads, “A gun is not the answer.”
The exchange, which the parish has hosted for some 15 years, has actually prompted the city to launch its own such events, Father Pfleger told OSV News.
The initiative has taken on increased urgency as a wave of mass shootings has swept the nation, he said.
As of May 18, the U.S. has seen 227 mass shootings — defined as attacks with four or more shot or killed, not including the shooter — in 2023.
“America seemingly has a real love affair with guns,” said Father Pfleger.
According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey research firm, the U.S. has 120 guns per 100 persons.
Father Pfleger said the nation’s affinity for firearms is due to “a number of things,” including the National Rifle Association (NRA), a 5-million member gun advocacy group that describes itself on its website as “the nation’s largest civil rights organization.”
“I don’t want to demonize the NRA,” said Father Pfleger. “But they have done a very good job over the years of telling people that they’re safer if they can protect themselves with a gun, even though all the national (law enforcement) agencies say guns do not make you safer.”
A 2022 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that living with a gun owner correlated with a “substantially elevated risk” for death by homicide, with women disproportionately affected.
Data also shows that suicide accounts for the majority of gun violence deaths. Of the 16,301 gun violence deaths so far in 2023, just under 57% (9,108) were due to suicide, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
In an increasingly divisive and anxious society, “guns have become the line of offense,” said Father Pfleger. “It used to be people would argue with their mouths, or their firsts. Now the first thing people do is pull a gun.”
As a result, “more and more people are arming themselves,” said Father Pfleger, adding he was at a loss as to “why we have not yet nationally banned assault weapons, which were made for war.”
While research is not conclusive on the impact of gun buybacks, with some studies finding unclear or even negligible impact in reducing gun violence, Father Pfleger remains undaunted, since his events do more than simply collect weapons.
“We have a table with resources for any young person who wants help in getting a job, finding a mentor, entering counseling,” he said. “We provide them with an alternative to guns.”
Father Pfleger said he has “seen many young people” over the last decade and a half participate in the buybacks, saying they were “tired (of violence) and wanted to change their lives and do something different.”
Lives have been saved due to the events, he added.
“I know we have taken guns off the streets that were actively used in violence,” said Father Pfleger. “I also know we’ve been able to help some young people.”