As Evanston marks 10 years of gun buyback, some say further change is necessary


Illustration by Hank Yang

Evanston’s gun buyback program allows residents to exchange their functional and unloaded firearms for $100 in cash.

Ella Jeffries, Assistant Copy Editor

Content warning: This story contains mentions of gun violence. 

Ten years ago, Navy veteran and Evanston resident Carolyn Murray said she heard gunshots outside her home every night. 

“During that time, some of my friends were deployed in Afghanistan, and sometimes they could hear the gunshots while we were on the phone,” Murray said. 

Instances like these motivated Murray to get involved in preventing gun violence in Evanston — specifically, spearheading a gun buyback program. 

The gun buyback program allows Evanston residents to exchange their functional and unloaded firearms, which typically cost anywhere from $350 to $800, for $100 in cash. Over the past 10 years, the program has collected more than 300 guns. 

Typically, the program runs buyback events twice annually, once in the summer and another during the holiday season. The program collects any type of workable weapon, bullets, ammunition and gun-related accessories and offers complete immunity from police consequences for the owners. 

Murray said the idea for the program took shape during conversations with people who had felony convictions and her son Justin, who was shot and killed ten years ago

“(Before he died), my son told me people aren’t going to want gift cards because they’re afraid the police would track them,” Murray said. “And people with prior records said no one would feel comfortable walking into a police station, so we decided to have it at a church instead.” 

Last year, the gun buyback was held at Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, just six days after a shooting outside a Mobil gas station in the 1900 block of Green Bay Road killed 17-year-old Carl Dennison III and wounded four other teens. In total, 53 guns and an assortment of ammunition were turned in at the event. 

Senior Pastor Rev. Taurus Scurlock told reporters at the time the church was “hoping that (shootings) don’t happen again” with programs like the gun buyback. 

Evanston Police Department Sgt. and Supervisor of the Community Policing Unit Chelsea Brown was also involved in last year’s buyback. She helped coordinate finding a location, staffing the event and taking the weapons back to the station for inventory and eventual destruction. 

Brown said EPD aims to get any unwanted guns off the streets and out of houses with the program. After 10 years, Brown says there still is support from the community and interest in its continuation. 

“Any unwanted gun is obviously an opportunity for an act of violence,” Brown said. “A grandkid could get a hold of a gun in the house and lead to a tragedy, or a criminal breaks in and takes the gun and kills somebody.” 

Brown said EPD is planning for another buyback later this year, but Murray said funds to support the $100 exchange rate are depleting, which will ultimately determine the success of future programs. In the past, the buyback has been funded with seed money from donors and institutions, including Northwestern University and Northshore University HealthSystem. 

Murray said the program was never meant to be the only solution to battling gun violence, but the city has yet to address her requests for a strategic plan on gun violence prevention. 

“To lose two to three Black males per year in the community is downright disrespectful,” Murray said. “No other community would take that type of impact and not have a plan.” 

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @ellajeffriess

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