Unitarian congregation offers money for guns

MIDDLEBURY — Every month the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society (CVUUS) congregation invests a portion of its Sunday offerings in humanity, whether it be feeding people or helping them get access to transportation.
This month the CVUUS community has decided to invest in guns — specifically, to put unwanted firearms out of circulation so that they don’t wind up in the hands of people who might use them in an act of violence or to do themselves harm.
The CVUUS has pledged to pay any Addison County resident $50 for any functioning firearm he or she turns in this month. Those who take advantage of the “gun disposal incentive program” should bring their unwanted firearm(s) in to the Middlebury Police Department and receive a voucher entitling them to a $50 check from the CVUUS. The CVUUS will issue the checks in September.
The Rev. Barnaby Feder explained that the CVUUS donations ministry regularly weighs uses for a portion of its Sunday offerings and decided to add a voluntary gun disposal program to the list of options. Feder endorsed the idea for the month of August. It is an issue with which the CVUUS congregation has become very familiar, having hosted a forum in March on guns and the manner in which they are used and regulated in Vermont and nationally.
One clear takeaway from that March forum was that Addison County residents on all sides of the gun debates support the goal of making gun ownership and use in the region as safe as possible, Feder said. With that in mind, CVUUS parishioners reasoned that permanently taking unused guns out of circulation could reduce risks of the weapons being used in the commission of a crime, accidental shooting or suicide.
“Suicide by gun is a major health issue nationwide and easy access to guns is a concern for health officials even in a state like Vermont, where hunters and gun users have an admirable safety record,” Feder said. “Giving unwanted guns to the police instead of selling them on the private market may also protect a gun owner from unwittingly contributing to crime in other states.”
Feder said any remainder from the CVUUS gun disposal incentive fund will be donated to Gun Sense Vermont, a statewide group that lobbies for measures to reduce gun violence. Vermont, according to statistics compiled by that group, has the 12th-highest suicide rate in the country — most of which are carried out with a gun — and is 16th in the nation in exporting guns later found to have been used in the commission of crimes in other parts of the country.
Should the number of returned guns exceed the amount of funds available, the CVUUS will find other sources of money to make good on its pledge, according to Feder.
“Part of this is an experiment,” he said. “If a lot of guns are turned in, I think many people will re-think our approach to guns around here.”
Middlebury police will sort through the returned guns, disposing of many of them while potentially repurposing some of them for police training, Feder said.
CVUUS officials note that Middlebury police have in the past accepted guns for disposal.
“We hope that our providing a financial incentive for people to do that this month will draw attention to this service provided by our police forces,” he said.
Middlebury Police Sgt. Mike Christopher said the department is pleased to collaborate with CVUUS on the program.
“The police department feels this program provides a convenient and easy way for residents to dispose of guns in a safe manner, knowing they will not wind up on the street at some future point involved in a crime, or other tragic incident,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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