Taking guns off the street, one at a time

St. Sabina Catholic Church held its annual gun buyback event Monday.

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A Chicago police officer with the 6th District looks over a shotgun and more than a dozen other handguns and rifles as Rev. Michael Pfleger hosts a gun-turn-in event at Saint Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham Monday. | Ashlee Rezin, Chicago Sun-Times

A Chicago police officer in the Gresham District looks over a shotgun and more than a dozen other handguns and rifles as the Rev. Michael Pfleger hosts a gun-turn-in event at St. Sabina Church in Auburn Gresham Monday. | Ashlee Rezin, Chicago Sun-Times

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

One man hobbled in on a cane. Several kept their eyes downcast. Most didn’t want to stay to chat — or even give a name.

They came to St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side Monday with their weapons wrapped in blankets, stuffed in an Aldi grocery bag, zipped into a little black purse.

Most were not young men, but perhaps their fathers, grandfathers, uncles or aunts.

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“He don’t even know I took it,” said one woman, dropping off a handgun and then making a hasty exit.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger doesn’t care how guns get delivered to his church.

“Getting a gun off the street that works is all that matters to me,” said Pfleger, overseeing his church’s annual gun buyback.

By an hour after the start Monday morning, Chicago police officers had taken in 17 handguns, four shotguns and three rifles. In exchange, no questions are asked, and the owner gets a crisp $100 bill per weapon. The weapons are later destroyed.

Past St. Sabina one-day gun buybacks have brought in 200 to 300 weapons, Pfleger said.

“The British are coming!” joked one police officer, after receiving a flint-lock pistol that looked like something the famed English highwayman Dick Turpin might have brandished in the 18th century.

The arsenal included a Tec-9 semiautomatic and an assault rifle with a bayonet that Richard Cusulick, 75, said his brother sent him from Vietnam in 1971.

“It’s a dangerous weapon, and I just wanted to get it off the streets,” said Cusulick, who lives in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood.

Gwendolyn Johnson, 68, a South Sider, brought in a semiautomatic handgun in her purse. She said it had belonged to her late father. She had been keeping the gun at home.

Johnson said she was mugged outside of her home a few years ago, but didn’t have the weapon with her at the time.

“The next thing I knew, I woke up in the hospital with a fractured skull,” she said. “He beat me, but I don’t know why because I knew I gave him — immediately — the purse.”

She said she plans to buy another gun.

“It was my father’s, and if I hurt somebody with it, I don’t want it to be his gun,” she said.

Pfleger, who celebrated his 74th birthday Monday, offered familiar words about the urgent need to rid the streets of guns.

“I continue to be disgusted and overwhelmed by the violence, the guns,” he said. “Every day it’s another shooting, constant murders. Nobody’s safe.”

Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks to reporters outside St. Sabina Catholic Church Monday, May 22, 2023.

The Rev. Michael Pfleger speaks to reporters outside St. Sabina Catholic Church Monday.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

He said the National Rifle Association has “done this amazing, amazing job to make people think they are safer with a gun. You are not safer; no statistic tells you that.”

He said he uses his birthdays to reflect on his life.

“I’ve survived two suspensions, two accusations [of sexual abuse] and an archdiocese that’s tried to get rid of me for about 48 years of my ministry,” he said. “But here I am, and I’m going to keep doing what I do.”

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