By 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Niki Watson was trying to find a solution to a new problem: What would she do when the money ran out?
The Gun Buyback/Peace Day she had organized was more successful than she expected. By 1:30, she had collected 13 handguns and rifles, but had only five of the promised $70 gift cards and 2½ hours to go.
She did receive donations from Deon Grant and Sizemore Personnel, she said, but the turnout at Antioch Baptist Church was greater than she expected. She was determined not to turn anyone away.
In the end, she took in 22 guns and wrote five personal checks to make up for the shortfall.
“I had enough to cover this year, but for next year I would like for businesses to start donating now, to start reaching out to me now,” she said.
Anyone was welcome to turn in a gun – no questions asked – in exchange for a $70 Visa gift card.
Watson said the people who showed up surprised her.
Organizers expected to see mostly young black men, but more women, older people and whites turned in guns than they expected.
Though Watson didn’t ask, she said many people told her they were turning in guns they didn’t use anymore and wanted to get rid of before they fell into the wrong hands.
That was why John Watson turned in his single-shot 12-gauge shotgun.
“I thought it was the best way to, not really dispose of a gun but to get one from getting into the wrong hands without trying to sell it to a pawn shop, where you don’t know where it goes,” he said. “At least here, we know it’s going to be off the streets.”
Richmond County sheriff’s deputies disabled each gun as it came through the doors. Investigators recorded the serial numbers on all of the guns to make sure they had not been stolen.
“All the guns will be taken to our property room. Any guns that are not stolen will be stored there until we can properly dispose of them,” Investigator Darrell Turner said. “Any guns that are stolen, we will try to reunite those weapons with their owners.”
Watson, an Augusta native who graduated from Westside High School in 1999, now lives in Queens, N.Y. She was dismayed that much of the news reaching her from home was about people in her age group being shot, and she decided to do something about it.
She said she hopes the event will continue and have more support next year.
“I had to do something,” she said. “I don’t even live here. I live in New York City and I came here to help out my hometown. People in Augusta are not stepping up.”