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Pastor offers gun amnesty church plan

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(Photo by Akil Simmons)Rev Leonard Santucci is offering to replicate a successful gun amnesty scheme he held in New Jersey.

A Bermuda pastor has offered his church as a neutral venue for gun amnesties.

The Rev Leonard Santucci, pastor at the AME’s Vernon Temple in Southampton, said that, even if his proposal failed to get official sanction, he was prepared to accept firearms at his church or even collect them from people’s homes.

Dr Santucci said he had been involved in a successful gun buy back programme while serving in a church in East Orange, New Jersey.

He added: “I believe the church is in a unique position to operate on both sides of the fence.

“Most people who are likely to be in possession of a gun will be more comfortable going to a church, which is considered a safe haven compared to a police station.”

“I have already been told it is possible that people who operate by night with guns are prepared to participate and surrender weapons.”

He added that yesterday’s shooting of a St David’s man in the leg and the gun murder of Erin Richardson last week underlined the importance of taking firearms off the streets.

“It further highlights the importance of what I’m recommending we should do.

“One of the points that people have to understand is that the very people who are doing the shooting could end up one day being shot.”

Dr Santucci added: “We can operate as a preventive measure and we also operate in restorative terms — restore people’s faith and promote healing.”

Dr Santucci, who returned to the Island last year after eight years in the US, said the buy back scheme in New Jersey had taken in nearly 1,000 guns in the space of two days.

His St Paul AME Church in East Orange worked with the police and state prosecutors to offer debit cards with cash credits in return for weapons.

He said: “It was the police who were receiving the weapons, but they were receiving them in a non-threatening environment and the weapons surrendered were not used as a basis for prosecution but used for prevention and safety.”

Dr Santucci added he had met National Security Minister Michael Dunkley — and had got a favourable response.

He said: “He was aware of it when we did it in East Orange and we intend to collaborate further because it would require the cooperation of the police as well as the Attorney General’s Chambers, which is the model we used in the United States.”

Mr Santucci spoke out after Erin Lee Richardson was gunned down and killed in the yard of his home in Southampton’s Riviera Crescent — only 600 yards from Dr Santucci house.

Dr Santucci said: “He was killed in what is considered to be the shadow of my church. He was the age that he could have been one of my children. I have two sons and I believe in Bermuda we can learn from communities and churches elsewhere.”

He added: “I’m very optimistic because the Minister of National Security responded positively.

“But — whether they want to implement the programme or not — I’m prepared to receive guns at my church. I will take responsibility for the guns being turned into police.

“People can hand them in anonymously to me at my church office. If they don’t want to bring them into my office they can call me and I will collect them.”

Mr Dunkley said last night: “The effort to positively impact communities knows no barriers.

“Churches and other respected community institutions have a part to play.

“Our team from the Ministry has spoken to Rev Santucci and will meet with him early next week to discuss the best means to add value to the ongoing work of those already engaging in the community.”

A police spokesman said the police service was the enforcement arm of the law and that the question of gun amnesties was the responsibility of Government and Governor George Fergusson.

(Photo by Akil Simmons)Rev Leonard Santucci is offering to replicate a successful gun amnesty scheme he held in New Jersey.