On Saturday, the grounds of New Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church will become home to an unlikely scene: unloaded, unwanted, legal and illegal firearms.
Residents are expected to roll up to the Opa-locka church at 15000 NW 27th Ave., drop off anything from hunting rifles to automatic weapons — and get paid for their efforts.
Opa-locka Police, who will be on hand, will pay $50 to $200 — no questions asked.
Opa-locka has partnered with several churches, including New Mt. Pleasant, to sponsor two annual buyback events in which residents are urged to hand over their weapons for pay.
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This is one of several buyback programs scheduled for Miami Dade in the next few days leading up to July 4, a holiday notorious for firing weapons indiscriminately.
Miami Gardens also is in hosting a buyback event from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the parking lot of Antioch MB Church, 21311 NW 34th Ave.
Other South Florida communities, like Liberty City, host gun buyback programs toward the beginning of the year, while Miami Beach begins its collection in October.
Miramar also targets the end of the year festivities by hosting an event in November. Last year, Miramar officials said they collected 79 weapons.
The buyback programs are not confined to South Florida. They are now in major cities around the country affected by high rates of gun violence, including Boston, Cincinnati and Camden, N.J.
Some Boston communities refer to the program as “your piece for peace.”
In Camden, authorities aim their programs just before Christmas and New Year’s. The last event netted 1,137 firearms, according to published reports.
Miami-Dade County’s Gun Bounty Program goes a step further than just purchasing the guns, said Carmen Caldwell, executive director of the Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade.
“It targets criminals holding illegal weapons and not just the weapons themselves,” she said. Using anonymous tips, the county program offers money for the weapon and apprehension of the criminal, getting both off of the street, Caldwell said.
Opa-locka began its program in 2008, shortly after death of 11-year-old Joshua Arroliga on New Year’s Day. Joshua was outside playing hide-and-seek with friends. He had hidden behind an abandoned couch, next to a dumpster, when neighbor Zenon Fernandez — celebrating the start of the new year — fired his semiautomatic weapon at the couch.
Fernandez later told investigators he thought firing into the air would be too dangerous. He received a 10-year prison sentence.
Shortly after Joshua’s death, the Rev. Arthur Jackson of New Shiloh Baptist Church called on other pastors in the area to help him do something about the gun violence in the community. Several pastors partnered with Opa-locka Police and the city’s gun buyback program was born.
“I’ve been with this program from the beginning, and it is very needed,” said the Rev. Larry Walthour of St. Andrews Missionary Baptist Church.
In the first few years, the community turned in a few hundred firearms. One year netted 103 firearms.
Since the community also turned in stolen firearms during the event, it was a “successful and viable project” says detective Emily Crawford.
Police hope to obtain “any firearm that is in working condition that can be used to injure or kill someone or commit other crimes,” Crawford said.
June and December are the designated months for Opa-locka’s program, aimed at trying to remove as many firearms from the street as possible before major holidays — July 4 and New Year’s.
“Anytime you can keep a firearm from making it to the streets, it makes it important,” said Crawford.
The program is in place so that “burglars do not take a gun left in a home,” said Caldwell, of the crime watch program.