As the fifth annual Anonymous Gun Buyback approaches, organizers at the Coalition Against Gun Violence have had to reduce the previously $100 gift card amount to $80 per gun due to a shortage of donations this year. The event has always been sponsored and held at Earl Warren Showgrounds — free of charge to the nonprofit group — but this year, the group is required to pay.
“In years past, all we had to pay [to Earl Warren Showgrounds] was for the big sign advertising the event,” said Toni Wellen, chair of the Coalition Against Gun Violence. “We just take up a tiny space for four hours. We are a nonprofit and get by only with donations, so what really struck me was that we couldn’t even use the tables and chairs without paying an additional $450.” Wellen was concerned that perhaps Earl Warren Showgrounds CEO Ben Sprague, who took the position in January, was behind the decision to not sponsor this year.
“It really has nothing to do with me being the new CEO,” Sprague said. “I can’t speak to what happened in the past, but our board policies outline nonprofit guidelines. … This is just about sticking to board policies and not showing favoritism.” Sprague said that in addition to his commitment to sticking to board policies as written, the other driving factor was the showgrounds’ “serious financial crisis.”
“My goal is to get to a place where we can make enough money on events so that we are able to support any local 501(c)(3) paying 10 cents on the dollar as opposed to just 10 percent off,” he said. “But for now, we have to charge this to keep ourselves around in the future.”
Wellen said that in addition to the $450 cost of the table and chairs, the group had to pay $200 for the sign and $450 for the space itself, not including the liability insurance. Although this is the second year the City of Santa Barbara has contributed $10,000 to the buyback, the coalition is still looking for donations from the community, which can be made at sbcoalition.org.
The event will take place at the showgrounds June 15 from 8 a.m. to noon. An $80 gift card will be exchanged for each handgun or rifle turned in, and $150 for any assault weapon; there have been more than 1,200 firearms removed from the streets in the past four gun buybacks. Santa Barbara Police Department spokesperson Anthony Wagner said those bringing guns to the buyback must transport the firearms unloaded and in the trunk of their vehicles. Free gun locks will be given away while available, and no military ordnance or explosives are accepted at the event.