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'Very emotional, and it's very cathartic': How the Broncos' partnership with RAWtools is working to prevent tragedies through gun buyback events

AURORA, Colo. — Late in the 9 o'clock hour on Saturday morning in the Denver metro area, it was already getting hot.

In the parking lot of Aurora's Heritage Christian Center, it was the kind of heat that radiates off pavement in palpable waves, when sitting in a car can feel more uncomfortable with each passing minute under the bright Colorado sun.

Still, people in 10 to 15 cars sat in the lot waiting for the clock to strike 10 a.m., when the Broncos' gun buyback would start. Through a collective partnership with councilmembers from Denver and Aurora, as well as local nonprofit RAWtools, the Broncos have supported a monthly slate of eight of these buybacks, which began in March and will continue through October.

This one, though, may have been more highly anticipated than the previous three because of recent events. In the weeks leading up to the buyback, the nation had been rocked by two of its most shocking mass shootings in recent memory, one at a grocery store in Buffalo and one at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Saturday morning, 111 firearms were collected in exchange for Visa gift cards valued up to $250 per firearm during the drive-through event. Participants remained in their vehicles but were able to watch as the guns were effectively disarmed, cut in three places as the ATF recommends.

Before they departed, participants were also offered the chance to take an anonymous survey, and it was clear that the recent tragedies urged them to act.

"We asked on the survey, 'How did you hear about this gun buyback event?'" Vice President of Community Development Allie Engelken says. "And there were many individuals who said that, 'After Uvalde, after Buffalo, I Googled how to get rid of a firearm and this is what came up.' So I think individuals are looking for a way to take a step or to take action."

While the donation of more than 100 firearms — and more than 450 over the four buyback events so far this year — may not guarantee the prevention of mass shootings altogether, it does prevent any chance of those donated guns being used in any kind of tragedy, including suicides, which accounts for three-fourths of the 850 annual gun deaths in Colorado, according to the CDC.

"At its core, the program focuses on harm reduction," Engelken says. "While removing one firearm may not end the challenges of gun violence across our country, it has the potential to save a life in or outside of a home."

And in that way, the destruction of guns — of which about half were semi-automatic and nearly a dozen were assault-style rifles —  could be a very powerful experience.

"It's very emotional, and it's very cathartic," Engelken says. "It's very emotional to see the guns being cut and destroyed onsite, knowing that they wouldn't fall into the wrong hands or be utilized in any type of crime from that moment on."

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RAWtools, the nonprofit organization that hosts the buybacks, doesn't only coordinate the collection and the destruction of the firearms, though; the group also then takes the pieces of the weapons and utilizes them in the creation of garden tools or art.

After the collection and careful destruction of the weapons from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the volunteers on site then conducted a second event, hosting community members who shared how gun violence has impacted their lives.

After that, guests had the chance to take part in turning part of a gun into a piece of art. The barrel of shotgun was melted down at one end, which guests were then able to hammer on an anvil to reshape it.

Between the two events, there was a therapeutic feel for those who had been affected.

"It's a tangible action," Engelken says of the impact of that part of the day. "Unfortunately, we've seen so many instances of violence throughout our country. And it comes so frequently, so there's not a lot of time to stop and process and really think through how you are personally impacted by that. Having that afternoon session, that moment to hammer that hit onto the barrel provided that safe space to mentally process why we're there and our goals for the community moving forward."

One of the guests who took the opportunity to put a dent into the barrel and into gun violence was Broncos wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who lost his brother to gun violence in 2012.

"I feel like it's important because you never know what somebody's going through and you can hear their stories and the tragic news they heard and been through," Cleveland says. "And it just makes you so weak inside. It makes you want to just listen and learn and continue to just help them get through what they've been going through. If it's a group effort, then I feel like everybody can get through it together."

The group effort will continue through the rest of the summer, too, with four more buyback events scheduled in the Denver area:

Table inside Article
Event DateLocation
Saturday, July 16Park Hill Golf Course
Saturday, Aug. 20Living Water Christian Center Church
Saturday, Sept. 17New Life Christian Church
Saturday, Oct. 15Colorado Community Church

For more information on the events, including compensation rates and accepted items, click here. For answers to frequently asked questions, click here.

The Broncos partnered with RAWtools to host a gun buyback event on Saturday, along with local councilmembers and volunteers.

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