Shoprite Cosponsors Gun Buybacks in Baltimore

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Gun buy backs

August 12, 2014;CBS News

In East Baltimore, the nonprofit McElderry Park Community Association sponsored an unusual gun buyback event. Rather than money, people who turn in guns get refurbished computers from a nonprofit called Digit All Systems. According to Lance Lucas from Digit All, the nonprofit will also provide computer training for the computer recipients.

Do gun buybacks matter? Critics might suggest that criminals don’t typically turn in their weapons, particularly for used computers. But no one is suggesting that guy buybacks are panaceas to gun violence in our cities. A McElderry Park neighborhood resident expressed one important reason: “When he passed, I just took it home and it’s been sitting there,” said Jefferson Livingston, a neighborhood resident talking about his late father and his .38 revolver. “Anybody can steal your stuff, shoot somebody with it and trace it back to you. I said it’s not really worth it.”

Last month, the City of Baltimore ran an extensive buyback effort called “Goods for Guns,” trading guns for $100 Shoprite gift cards. Neighborhood residents explained their rationales for participating: “I’m concerned that if my house is burglarized, someone is going to get this and it’s going to end up on the street. I just don’t use it anymore,” said one. “Most young folk don’t understand the harm they cause other people because they don’t have a clue. It’s too many killings going on in the city,” another said as she turned in two shotguns that had been left with her by a family friend.

A similar gun buyback event in Baltimore last year took 500 guns off the street. This year’s event was held at the new Shoprite store opening in Baltimore’s Howard Park neighborhood. The involvement of Shoprite and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in a partnership on a gun buyback served as a spark for criticism for one “citizen journalist.” Jeff Quinton laid out a number of charges aimed at the weaknesses in gun buyback programs plus political connections between Rawlings-Blake and Shoprite:

  • Quinton said most of the guns turned in were “old and rusty…turned in by law abiding citizens—so guns weren’t really taken off the street.” He might have acknowledged that those guns are no longer available to people who might steal them from those law-abiding citizens and use them on the streets of Baltimore—or, if they were as rusty and old as some were reported to have been, no longer sitting around for in-home gun accidents.
  • Quinton said that Rawlings-Blake is anti-gun (a generic term that he doesn’t explain) and says that Marshall Klein, from the family that owns Shoprite, is a known political donor to “anti-gun Democrats.” A little research on Rawlings-Blake’s public statements regarding gun control suggest the following: In 2010, she favored creating a mandatory criminal sentence for people arrested with illegal firearms because they were frequently only hit with misdemeanors, and in 2012, she supported legislation proposed by state senator Brian Frosh—another “anti-gun Democrat,” in Quinton’s lexicon—that would give the Maryland State Police increased authority over gun dealers’ record-keeping. She may be anti-gun in Quinton’s view, but Rawlings-Blake doesn’t sound like she’s going house-to-house rifling people’s closets for handguns.
  • Quinton criticized the new Shoprite because it received $14 million in tax credits out of what he said was a $20 million construction cost. The generic tax credits that Quinton mentions is the New Market Tax Credits program that spurs new business development in lower income neighborhoods. In this case, the Howard Park Shoprite, the first new supermarket in this neighborhood in 15 years, resulted from the efforts of The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) which applied for a Healthy Food Financing Initiative predevelopment loan from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2011 and eventually helped put together the partnership that led to the $14.65 million NMTC investment. This is exactly the kind of investment the NMTC program is meant to support, and it took a creative community development financial institution (CDFI) like TRF to make it happen. It isn’t clear how Quinton’s opposition to gun buybacks leads to criticism of the use of New Market Tax Credits for a new inner city supermarket, but the TRF effort to bring a supermarket to the Howard Park neighborhood is really to be applauded—with or without the gun buyback program.
  • Quinton disclosed that the nonprofit working with Shoprite on the gun buyback efforts was UpLift Solutions. He insinuated somehow that the nonprofit’s identity and management weren’t being revealed to the public through the initial Baltimore Sun coverage of the buyback, though we found UpLift clearly identified in several sources. Quinton’s more significant concern was his contention that UpLift Solutions is really an arm of Shoprite itself, or at a minimum connected to the grocery industry (with a headquarters that apparently shares an address with Brown’s Super Stores, which owns a Shoprite, in suburban Philadelphia). The website of UpLift Solutions makes the group’s connections to the supermarket industry clear, describing itself as believing “that full service supermarkets in underprivileged communities can become the anchor to fulfill community needs and ensure consistent access to fresh, affordable food.” The board and staff of UpLift does have people from the supermarket industry, logical given that the organization is meant to address supermarket-related solutions, and among its advisors is Jeremy Nowak, the former director of The Reinvestment Fund and more recently the former president and CEO of the William Penn Foundation. Among UpLift’s projects in progress are the Philabundance Fair & Square nonprofit market in Chester, Pennsylvania, the Renaissance Community Co-op in East Greensboro, North Carolina, and more traditional supermarkets (including Shoprite stores). Quinton adds the insinuation that the $156,000 salary paid to UpLift’s director of community development, Mike Basher, is excessive. Our quick review of UpLift Solutions? It’s an important and credible resource for localities like Baltimore trying to address the problem of food deserts in inner-city neighborhoods.

The trajectory of Quinton’s thinking is a path from the gun buyback program, which he thinks is wrong, to a concern that hustlers trying to buy the guys from participants for more money than the $100 Shoprite gift cards should be allowed to do so, to a condemnation of Rawlings-Blake and Shoprite for being anti-gun, because they believe in stronger gun regulations, to a condemnation of the New Markets Tax Credit program. It’s quite a tortured thought process, but it is nothing compared to Quinton’s two asides referring to Muslims. For no discernable reason, he wrote that the new Howard Park Shoprite will “cater to Muslims in the area with halal-certified meat,” and he added that “the owner of Brown’s ShopRite…is celebrating the end of Ramadan right now.” Think the fellow has a problem with Muslims?

While we shouldn’t make too much out of the blogging of one right-wing observer, there is something to be said about the Baltimore gun buyback and others like it. Gun buybacks don’t solve the problem of criminals with firearms on their own, but they are positive efforts aimed at reducing gun violence. The fact that supermarkets located in inner-city neighborhoods are participants and sponsors of gun buybacks is to be applauded. And opponents of efforts to reduce the over-availability of guns seems to have crafted a mythology that allows them to attack not only efforts to strengthen gun controls, but also programs such as the NMTC that support the development of inner city supermarkets, and then, in Quinton’s case, to somehow slide into concerns about Muslims in the neighborhood. Isn’t it time for nonprofits to stand up for violence reduction efforts such as McElderry Park’s, UpLift Solution’s, Shoprite’s, and Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s?—Rick Cohen

  • Steven Plourde

    My major concern in this dispute is the need for transparency in the disposal of the guns that people swap for their computer or grocery card. Let’s make sure that no one ever uses them again!