NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — About a year ago, Metro Nashville police decided to try an “alternative” strategy to help reduce violent crime in the city.
At the time, in March last year, churches in four precincts — East, North, Madison and Hermitage — agreed to team up with police to offer a “no-questions-asked” process where people could anonymously turn in firearms.
Since then, Lt. Steven Bowers said a total of 54 guns have been “taken off the street,” and at least six have been firearms that were reported stolen. In fact, Bowers said the most recent weapon anonymously turned in was linked to a car break-in.
In 2022, there were a record number of guns reported stolen from vehicles in Nashville. Of the total 1,952 guns reported stolen last year, the MNPD said 1,378 were taken out of cars — accounting for more than 70% of all guns stolen.
While the six firearms collected through the gun retrieval program are only a small fraction of weapons reported stolen last year, Bowers said the impact of having one less gun in the “wrong hands” is huge since many stolen weapons can be linked to violent crimes.
“When we first started the program last year, one thing I would always say is, ‘If we could get five guns, 10 guns, 20 guns off the streets,’ I believe that every gun we get off the streets, that has an impact on a family,” Bowers said.
Bowers said the program has expanded to 19 churches in seven out of eight of the MNPD’s precincts over the last year, with the most recent location added in Madison in January. A majority of the guns collected have come from the East and North Nashville areas.
“One thing they want to try to help do is reduce crime in the areas that these churches are in,” Bowers said. “A lot of the pastors that I talked to that joined on as partners in the program, one thing they always tell me is, ‘We have to do something in our area’.”
The Rock United Ministries, located within the 37208-zip code in North Nashville, was among the first few churches to get involved with the program. In 2018, a study by the Brookings Institution found the 37208-zip code had the highest incarceration rate in the nation.
Since partnering with the MNPD, Pastor Samuel Orr said about 10 firearms have been anonymously dropped off in the church’s secure lockbox.
“Naturally, we’re in the 37208-zip code, so anything that we can do to help reduce crime is what we’re about,” Orr said. “As far as the impact in the community, I think even if it’s one gun, that’s a big impact.”
Orr said The Rock United Ministries and other participating churches serve as a “safe haven” when it comes to anonymously turning over weapons because “we’re not turning in names; we’re turning in guns.”
The program is aimed at creating a safe space for teens and young adults to surrender weapons.
“I don’t even need to know that they’re there,” Orr said. “If they say, ‘I just need to talk to you,’ somewhere in the conversation I may say, ‘Well let me go into my office real quick,’ and that helps them to drop the gun off and they can leave.”
Each church has a secure lockbox in which guns can be dropped off without anyone being present, and only police have a key to open the lockbox. Orr said the MNPD is notified and quickly responds anytime a firearm is surrendered.
“Although the program is anonymous there’s several different stories I’ve heard from, ‘Hey, a grandparent turned this gun in because they found it in their grandkid’s room’,” Bowers said. “Those stories are success stories to me.”
Bowers said the MNPD is looking to double the number of guns collected in the second year of the program and plans to continue incorporating more churches. A full list of participating churches can be found by clicking here. You do not need to be a member to drop a gun off.
“As law enforcement, we try to do several different things to help reduce crime overall in our city. The gun retrieval program is just one of those additional ways we try to have an impact,” Bowers said. “Every gun we can get off the street, and especially not end up in the wrong person’s hands, I think that has a huge impact on our community.”