Ronald Somerville Jr., 24, was shot to death Sept. 12, 2012, in the 5400 block of Broad Street in Garfield. A month later, 16-year-old Ne'Ondre Harbour of Garfield was killed a few blocks away for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, collateral damage in a neighborhood feud that escalated into gunfire.
Followed by a January shooting death that police said was a botched armed robbery, the violence got to the point that Aggie Brose was afraid to turn on the news.
"We are rebuilding this neighborhood. ... That took the wind out of all of us," said Ms. Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corp., a community development nonprofit for the Bloomfield, Garfield and Friendship neighborhoods. "We sat back and said, 'The guns are in the neighborhood, and people are dying.' ... We have to give people hope that we're doing something."
In the Pittsburgh police bureau's Zone 5 -- which includes Bloomfield, Garfield, Friendship, East Liberty, Highland Park, Homewood, Larimer, Stanton Heights, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar, Morningside and East Hills -- there were nine homicides in 2009 and 20 in 2010, according to city police. Homicides fell to eight in 2011 but more than doubled in 2012, when there were 17. As of Friday, there had been 13 this year.
Bloomfield-Garfield Corp. has just finished construction of 93 new affordable homes in west Garfield and, through its public safety task force, takes responsibility for helping to keep the neighborhood safe, Ms. Brose said.
"We were just feeling great about everything, and all of a sudden the guns came out," she said.
The desire to curb the violence led to a fundraising effort to pay for a gun buyback program set for noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at the nonprofit's activity center at 113 N. Pacific Ave. The group had set a fundraising goal of $150,000 but fell well short, raising about $13,500 from the Pittsburgh Foundation, Highmark, PNC Bank and grass-roots donations.
"We had such big plans, but we couldn't pull the money down," Ms. Brose said.
Visa gift cards will be issued in exchange for firearms with no questions asked, Ms. Brose said. Guns will still be accepted if the gift cards run out.
"We're very committed to this, and it is to show people that we care. At least we're going to try to get some guns off the street. We hope people show up with their guns," Ms. Brose said.
Those who turn in handguns, shotguns and rifles will receive $100 worth of Visa gift cards while assault-style weapons, which will be determined by police, will bring up to $250 in gift cards.
The process is anonymous. No questions about names, addresses or other personal information will be asked. Camera and cell phone use will be prohibited during the buyback, which is also supported by Lawrenceville United, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, City Councilman Ricky Burgess and state Reps. Dom Costa, Ed Gainey and Adam Ravenstahl.
Pittsburgh police officers will be on scene to determine weapon types and ensure the guns are safely collected and stored until they are destroyed.
Police spokeswoman Diane Richard said officers will run the guns' serial numbers to check for weapons that have been reported stolen.
The effectiveness of gun buybacks has been debated nationally, and Ms. Brose acknowledged the limitations.
"Maybe one of these guns will save one life," she said. "This shows people that at least we're trying."
David A. Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law who studies and writes on law enforcement and police behavior, wrote in an email that gun buybacks succeed in getting some guns off the street, and "every one that is out of circulation helps."
"But usually, the guns brought in are not guns belonging to criminals who might be involved in violent crimes," he said.
He noted that guns in the homes of upstanding citizens can be stolen and used by criminals and increase the risk of suicides and deadly accidents.
"So just getting those unused firearms out of circulation is a small victory," Mr. Harris said.
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909.