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First Parish Bedford funds gun buyback program

Massachusetts congregation seeks to ‘do something’ in response to Newtown massacre.
By Donald E. Skinner
3.4.13

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The Rev. John Gibbons

The Rev. John Gibbons, senior minister of First Parish in Bedford, Mass., urged the congregation to move beyond debate about preventing gun violence to put ideas into action.

As the nation wrestles with what to do about gun control, one Unitarian Universalist congregation is taking a stand.

First Parish in Bedford, Mass. has contributed the first seed money—$500—for a gun buyback program recently initiated by the town. The Rev. John Gibbons said the decision to support the buyback program came out of a meeting he, one of his parishioners, and several other people attended with Police Chief Robert Bongiorno about how to reduce gun violence.

Gibbons said he decided to support the program out of a need to “do something.” The $500 came from his ministerial discretionary fund and from individual parishioners and not from the church budget. The program, which began in February, will last as long as funds remain. As of mid-February around $1,000 total had been contributed by Bedford residents, including several First Parish members. Residents had turned in six guns. Not all of them accepted money. The program provides $50 per weapon.

In a column in the congregation’s February newsletter, Gibbons noted that gun violence over the years has touched his ministry in various ways—from parishioners who have been shot, or have shot others or themselves, to people who have brought him guns for safekeeping because they were depressed.

He said First Parish member Don Marshall initiated the meeting with the police chief. Discussions focused on unwanted guns that people find when cleaning out a house or guns that residents decide they no longer want. Supporters of the buyback program hope it will encourage others to turn in guns as well.

Marshall told the Boston Globe that the grief he saw in Bedford after the Newtown shootings compelled him to act. He’d read about a similar program in a New Jersey community and he thought “It’s a small thing we could do here. If you can take away even just one gun that might have been used incorrectly, it’s already a success.”

Added Bongiorno, in the Globe article, “Unwanted firearms are a hazard in any home. They can be stolen. They can be used in an accident or a suicide. Statistics show us that if you have a household that has a gun, you are five times as likely to have a suicide in the home.” The program is also supported by the town’s Department of Youth and Family Services, Board of Health, and Violence Prevention Coalition.

Gibbons emphasized that the program is in no way a threat to those who legally and responsibly own guns. He said discussion in the congregation following his announcement has been “vigorous,” adding, “Some people have suggested that other measures, such as reducing lead in soil and paint might do more to reduce criminality than would gun control. Good idea, I say. Let’s hear more ideas. I urge us to move beyond debate and do something.”

In the newsletter article he observed, “Retrieving unwanted guns is not the antidote to Newtown or to criminality. For my part, however, I’ll be supporting the Bedford Police and the Bedford Health Department and doing something. If you’ve got another idea, I urge you to do something, too. I’ll support you. We need lots of ideas. We need action.”


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