Anthony King says his mission to help teens reduce gun violence took a hit when Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree put more than 1,400 firearms on the auction block.
But King, a community activist who mentors about 25 teens, doesn’t want Roundtree to halt the auction. Instead, he’d like the proceeds to benefit educational programs on proper gun use, gun dangers and the lasting effects of gun deaths.
Proceeds of the firearms sale, which is needed because the sheriff’s office is running out of room to store seized weapons, will go to the city’s general fund. Roundtree plans to ask the Augusta Commission to redirect the funds to the sheriff’s office.
Roundtree said he has no idea how much the auction will raise, and if he gets the money, he doesn’t know how he will spend it. Gun education could use more funding, but the sheriff’s office has many needs, he said.
“Gun violence is very rampant in our county, especially among our young people,” Roundtree said. “Education has to be brought into the equation.”
Some teens who meet bi-monthly in the Laney-Walker neighborhood as part of King’s mentoring program, called KEYS Academy, helped raise donations for a gun buyback held in August. Organizer Niki Watson said the event gets guns off the streets and save lives.
“No one was stepping up to address the issue,” Watson said.
In two years, the gun buyback event has collected 62 firearms in exchange for gift cards.
The Augusta Housing Authority hosted buybacks at its complexes in 2000 but the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development stopped funding the initiative the following year. The effort was ineffective at combating gun violence because lawbreakers rarely surrender their weapons, the department said.
King, who has a gun, said he supports the Second Amendment but Georgia lawmakers did not act in the state’s best interest when they amended law in 2012 and prohibited seized weapons from being destroyed.
Some teens in King’s program were disappointed when they heard about the firearms auction that could potentially counter their efforts to make streets safer, King said. Now, he’s trying to educate the teens on the importance of participating in the political process.
“Richmond County Sheriff’s Office isn’t putting the guns back on the streets. Our lawmakers and senators are the ones putting the guns back on the streets,” King said. “It serves as a wake up call for my young people.”
King and Watson reached out to the sheriff’s office this week to discuss ways to improve gun education and encourage Roundtree to appropriate more money to programs like theirs.
Mostly, the sheriff’s office uses a program called C.H.A.M.P.S. – or Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety – for gun education. C.H.A.M.P.S. replaced the drug abuse prevention program DARE in Richmond County schools this year, Roundtree said.
“Kids these days don’t have a concept of life and death. Firearms can kill people,” Roundtree said. “We try to teach them that nothing can bring that bullet back once you pull the trigger.”