If Salt Lake City Council Chairman Dan Dugan had his way, he'd have every member of Congress go into a room, lock the door and only let them out after they've reformed the country's gun policies.
What angers him is the types of places targeted in a string of recent mass shootings across the country: an elementary school in Texas, a grocery store in New York, a church in California and a hospital in Oklahoma.
"What we hear from some of our leaders is to say a prayer and ask for a moment of silence and to fly our flags at half-staff. Those ring hollow to me because we're doing that every week now," he said, speaking sternly in front of a crowd at the International Peace Gardens in Salt Lake City, wearing an orange shirt on National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
"Our flags are always at half-staff," he added. "We're always saying a prayer and we're always taking a moment of silence. That's not getting us anywhere."
While the debate over gun reform continues to play out on a national level, Salt Lake City leaders decided to step in and do whatever they can to reduce gun violence around them. Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced a new city-sponsored gun buyback program event that will be held at the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building on June 11 — the first of its kind since the 1990s.
The first 200 people to voluntarily turn in their guns will receive a gas gift card worth $100 for an assault rifle and $50 for every other type of gun. The average price of gas in Salt Lake County is currently $4.79 per gallon, according to AAA.
"This program is simply an incentive. There's no requisite, of course," Mendenhall said, wearing an orange shirt reading "Protect Children Not Guns." "It will, I believe, take some guns out of circulation. … Salt Lake City is committed to reducing violent crime. We're committed to that every single day."
The mayor credits community organizer Jeanette Padilla for proposing the idea to the Salt Lake City Mayor's Office. The city's idea mirrors a Sacramento, California, program held two weeks ago, where 134 guns were exchanged for all the $50 gas cards that the police department had purchased.
Mendenhall said members of her staff and Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Brown were immediately on board with the plan as soon as it was brought up. The Salt Lake City Police Foundation raised funds to launch the program.
Other cities have held similar events. Mendenhall calls it a "tremendous option" for people unsure what to do with guns they no longer have use for or are worried that they may be stolen. She cited an example in her own life: when her father died, her mother became insecure with the guns he used to hunt with, especially with children in the house at the time.
It's not an uncommon scenario either.
"I know that this is something that our officers encounter in Salt Lake City — family members not knowing what to do with what might be left in the home," she said.
While the effort comes in the wake of mass shootings across the nation, Salt Lake Police Capt. Charli Goodman said police deal with smaller acts of violence on a regular basis. These aren't just shootings; for instance, a woman was recently assaulted with the butt of a gun the other day, she said.
Salt Lake police have dealt with 668 total reports of violent crimes this year, a slight decrease from the first five months of 2021 but still 12.3% above the five-year average. They've also handled 252 weapons cases. However, the department’s public data doesn't specify how many of these crimes are gun-related.
Police have received over 40 reports of gun thefts this year, according to Goodman.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the U.S. in 2020. This figure is composed by 24,292 suicides, 19,384 homicides and 1,546 gun deaths associated with either police, unintentional or undetermined circumstances, as noted by Pew Research Center.
"Gun violence can have an exhausting toll on a community and our police officers," Goodman said. "As police officers, we've seen the harm caused by senseless acts of gun violence."
City and community leaders also called on federal leaders to consider options like new age requirements, stricter background checks and bans on certain types of guns Friday but they hope that a buyback program will also help chip away at gun crimes in the city.
The event will run from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 11. Police ask that all guns are unloaded and use a case or lock if possible. All participants will be asked if their gun is secured and unloaded, and where it is located. Gift cards are limited to one per person.
"There's a lot of scenarios (for turning in a gun) and we're not going to ask questions or judge," Mendenhall said. "Just bring your weapons in and take advantage of a $50 gift card while you're at it."