SAN ANTONIO – A North Side councilman hopes to make a dent in San Antonio’s gun violence through a “voluntary weapons exchange,” where people can trade their guns for H.E.B. gift cards with “no questions asked.”
Councilman John Courage is organizing the Nov. 19 event through his District 9 council office, using funds from his district budget and donations.
People can bring as many as 20 unloaded weapons to the Alamodome parking lot that Sunday afternoon and, depending on the condition and type of firearm, receive between $50 and $300 worth of gift cards per weapon.
“Just drive in,” Courage said. “No one’s going to ask your name. No one’s going to ask where you got the weapon. No one’s going to ask where you live. Simple as that.”
San Antonio Police officers will collect the weapons on site, he said. The firearms will be destroyed after determining if they have been reported stolen or used in a crime.
More than 4,200 weapons were collected in the Houston area during four such events. Courage hopes to bag at least 500 with this exchange.
The fourth-term councilman framed the event as a way for people concerned about their guns being stolen or used in a spur-of-the-moment violent incident to dispose of them without worrying about where they end up.
“You know, there are too many problems with people who have been hurting themselves with weapons, who are family members who are afraid another person going through a crisis might use a weapon in their home to hurt themselves or others. You know, we have too much domestic violence in our community,” he said.
Courage was part of an effort to do something similar in 2019 after the mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart.
However, he said he and his council allies did not feel they had the support to move it forward and ended up withdrawing it.
A vocal opponent at the time was San Antonio Police Chief William McManus, who said gun buybacks “just don’t work” and that taking guns with “no questions asked” could lead to issues.
“If I’m turning over a gun and that gun’s been used in a murder, I’m going to want to talk to that person,” McManus said at the time.
With his officers now set to participate in such a program, it wasn’t immediately clear what had changed McManus’ mind or how his specific concerns had been addressed.
An SAPD spokesman said the chief was unavailable Thursday for an on-camera interview. Instead, the spokesman provided a short, emailed statement downplaying the department’s role in the event.
“This event is being promoted, coordinated and facilitated by the District 9 Councilman’s office using their own funding sources. SAPD’s role will be to safely and efficiently collect any firearms that are turned in to ensure public safety,” the spokesman wrote.
KSAT emailed follow-up questions to specifically ask why McManus had apparently changed his mind on gun buybacks and whether the event would truly be anonymous or if SAPD would attempt to log who had dropped off a particular weapon if it’s found to be related to a crime.
When pressed on the same subject, Courage said, “Police ... have not told me they have any intent to follow through on anything.”
As to whyvMcManus may have changed his mind, the councilman said, “I think my presentation to him about what we’re trying to do and what we’re targeting, and I think he understands what’s going on in this community and understands the value of this.”
Courage has pledged $100,000 out of the rollover funds in his council district budget. Other council members have also pledged money, Courage said, and he plans to solicit contributions from the community with the hope of raising at least $200,000.
Council members hear “all the time” from people who are upset about gun violence, he says, “and the one thing I’ve heard from many people all over is ‘when are we going to do something?’”
“You know, federally, we’re limited. Statewide, we’re limited. But what can we do? What action can we take to make people safer in the community? That’s why I feel this is the most valuable use for that money.”