Major players in Saturday's Gas for Guns event have high hopes for a decline in homicides and gun violence on Memphis streets. Memphis Mayor AC Wharton is particularly optimistic.
"While it is understood that one campaign like this will not rid our streets completely of gun violence, we feel that the best way to reduce this very critical issue is to hit it from all sides," said Mayor Wharton. "Together, with some of the wonderful initiatives by Memphis Police Chief Toney Armstrong and MPD, we can make our streets safer for everyone."
The Rev. Ralph White of Bloomfield Baptist Church in South Memphis is "ground zero" for the Gas for Guns on Saturday, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. A firearm may be turned in without penalty for a $50.00 gas card – no questions asked. Up to three guns per person may be surrendered for three gas cards — $150 worth of gas from any Mapco.
New Orleans, Louisiana and Nashville are among several cities which have implemented the program in recent years. Both eliminated nearly 300 firearms from urban streets in a single day.
"It's no questions asked," said Mayor Wharton. "We will not be running any ballistics testing for gun crimes. We won't be doing any investigations on whether the guns are stolen. This is about preventing crimes and building trust within our communities. We are forging a partnership with our citizens to make our streets safer."
Each participant will also get a pair of Memphis Grizzlies tickets.
"We appreciate all the sponsors who came together to make this all possible – Mapco, MPD, Mayor Wharton, Clear Channel, and the Memphis Grizzlies," said Rev. White. "But a special thanks goes to Ronald Kent who got everybody to the table."
Kent, proprietor of China Inn and Chow Time Restaurants, approached Tony McLarty, vice-president of community relations for Mapco, after witnessing Nashville's success with the program.
"I told Tony that Nashville was a wonderful city to have implement Gas for Guns," said Kent, "but Memphis was an even greater place for it because of our high statistics for gun violence and homicides.
"Tony asked me to make contact with Victor Ortega, and I was asked to get the city mayor on board, get a church involved, and things just all came together from there."
Those planning to surrender firearms are asked to place weapons in a paper bag, a box, a backpack, or some other encasement. All firearms should be unloaded during the submission process.
Clear Channel will sponsor a remote broadcast live from the event. Ex-felons and victims of gun violence will be featured during a seminar called "Done with Guns," aimed at young people and sponsored by City Councilman Myron Lowery.
Mayor Wharton is hopeful that the event will do a bit more than just take a bite out of crime.
"Eighty-seven percent of homicides in Memphis this year have been committed with a firearm, and a gun has been used in 67 percent of aggravated assaults. Many of these crimes are committed by young people under the age of 24.
"We've got to get these guns in on Saturday. It might be the grandmother who lives down the block, or a friend without a record. It could be the family dog. We don't care. Gas for Guns is a part of our overall effort to get guns off our streets."