GBI investigation into non-profit's gun buy-back program requested
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A grass-roots gun buy-back program in Savannah could be the subject of a new GBI investigation.
The request came from Chatham County Manager Lee Smith and the Chatham District Attorney Meg Heap.
Savannah Youth City, Inc.'s director told WTOC she had no idea there was a potential investigation heading their way, and added she's baffled that anyone would want to scrutinize a program meant to curb gun violence involving the City's youth.
Savannah Youth City's gun buy back program started last November, pulling more than thirty firearms off the streets since it's inception, according to Savannah Alderman Van Johnson, a sponsor of the program.
"I think that anything we can do to better the lives of young people in Savannah...is what we should do. I think that the gun buyback program is positive," said Beverlee Trotter, Director for Savannah Youth City, Inc.
Apparently, not everyone does though, or at least certain aspects of it.
County Manager Lee Smith said today that some in the community started to raise questions about the way the guns bought by Savannah Youth City were being stored.
Smith said, "Guns are purchased off the street all the time. There are programs all around the nation like this, which, there are good programs. But guns have to be safely held."
Smith said the guns the non-profit bought off the streets are now being held by Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics for safe keeping.
He would not say where they were being held before CNT took them.
Organizers with Savannah Youth City are concerned that the word getting out that the GBI could soon be looking into their organization could soon have a negative impact on what they're trying to do.
"A lot of times, it takes one person to say one bad thing about something good and the whole world will believe it," said Michael Orr, with Savannah Youth City, Inc.
WTOC did reach out to Van Johnson, who is not at this time a subject of the potential investigation, and he issued a statement saying in part that he is aware of the request by the County Manager and DA.
He said he "partnered with Savannah Youth City, Inc. to sponsor a gun buy back program in an effort to get guns out of the hands of those who should not have them…"
Johnson said later in that statement "If we had laws in Georgia that protected people more than guns, then gun buy back programs would not be necessary."
Full statement from Savannah Alderman Van Johnson reads:
"I have been made aware of the Chatham County Manager's, in co-operation with the Chatham County District Attorney, request for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate Savannah Youth City's Gun Buy Back Program
Starting in November 2016, I partnered with Savannah Youth City, Inc. to sponsor a gun buy back program in an effort to get guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, primarily our young people, and off the streets of Savannah. From the inception of this program to present, I have remained in constant consultation and coordination with law enforcement agencies on the local and federal levels, whose ability to dispose of weapons whose owners can not be located or have no evidentiary value are also limited by outrageous gun laws.
If we had laws in Georgia that protected people more than guns, then gun buy back programs would not be necessary.
Investigations are necessary to establish facts and as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is Georgia’s leading investigatory agency, I look forward to their findings.
Respecting the integrity of the pending investigation, I will have no further comment on this matter until the investigation is concluded.
Van R. Johnson, II"
Copyright 2017 WTOC. All rights reserved.