Horry County residents swap guns for gift cards

April 27, 2013 

— Lawmakers in Washington continue to bicker and debate the issue of gun control, but closer to home, a coalition of Horry County law enforcement agencies and schools came together Saturday to try and get weapons out of local neighborhoods.

The second annual Stop the Violence Peace Festival and Countywide Community Safety Rally took place Saturday at Conway’s Friendship Missionary Baptist Church. Dozens of community members young and old came out on a sunny and warm spring day to socialize with their neighbors and law enforcement officials – and enjoy the grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.

Those law enforcement officers also were busy trading cash for guns.

At the end of the four-hour event, the coalition had bought back 70 guns from members of the community, said Catina Hipp, spokeswoman for the Conway Police Department.

This is the second year of the buy back program. Hipp said each of the 70 guns represent one fewer gun that could be used to commit a violent crime.

“Any weapon we can get off the street, we consider that a success,” she said.

Estimates of gun ownership in Horry County weren’t available, but national surveys indicate somewhere around 300 million guns in the country as a whole, or a little less than 1 gun for every man, woman and child in the U.S. Assuming those numbers hold true in Horry County, the guns collected Saturday were likely just a drop in the bucket.

Those dropping guns in the bucket received gift cards from Wal-Mart, Bi-Lo and Hess Wilco, Hipp said.

Conway Police Chief Reggie Gosnell said the coalition advertised $300 in gift cards for assault rifles, $100 for handguns and $50 for rifles and shotguns.

The weapons bought, Gosnell said, were split evenly between pistols and long guns, meaning an estimated $5,250 in gift cards was traded for the firearms.

All of the guns will be destroyed.

“It’s so comforting to see,” said Horry County Sheriff Phillip Thompson about the community support for the program.

It was an anonymous buy back, and no one really told Lt. Bobby Pellerin with Coastal Carolina University’s public safety division why they were getting rid of the guns. He said simply that everyone participating seemed happy to do so.

There was a small conference room in the back of the church where three officers inventoried the guns before putting them into two separate containers. A plastic trash can held the rifles, and pistols filled a laundry cart with bins.

The most interesting weapon turned in was a remake of a model Army revolver from the year 1860.

Conway High School freshman Cortez Brown, 15, turned out with his grandmother to support the endeavor. They did not have a gun to sell.

Brown said he feels his community could be a little safer, but didn’t elaborate further. He did, however, thank the efforts of law enforcement.

“I appreciate them riding around and patrolling the area,” Brown said.

Like countless other areas in the country, Horry County isn’t immune to gun violence.

It was two months ago that CCU sophomore Anthony Liddell, 19, was shot in the parking lot of the University Place apartments near the CCU campus. He later died from his wounds at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center.

Marquis Spencer McDonald, 21, and Stephon Mclain Jr., 22, both of Conway, were each indicted in Liddell’s death. Their bond hearings are set for next month.

More recently, Surfside Beach police have been investigating the April 16 death of a woman found shot to death in her home.

Gun violence and gun control have been a topic of state and national conversation since the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

A bill that would have expanded background checks for those wanting to buy a gun died in the U.S. Senate after it failed to get the necessary 60 votes.

Meanwhile, the South Carolina Senate sent to the House a bill to allow concealed weapon permit holders to carry their guns in bars and restaurants.

What happens next in Columbia and Washington has yet to be seen. But for Horry County, events like Saturday’s gun buy back initiative and peace rally give law enforcement the chance to talk to members of the community about how to make their neighborhoods safer.

Thompson, for one, said even if violent crimes rates started a steep decline, “We still have way too much.”

Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_bdickerson.

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