St. Louis (KSDK) - A group of St. Louis area pastors are taking a different approach to combating crime. They're putting a new spin on the traditional "gun buyback" by getting kids to give up their toy guns and violent games.
They hope to spark conversations with everyone who brought their toy guns about the culture of violence and change the way kids think about playing by replacing those toys that mimic violence with ones that don't.
Johnise McKinney brought her five year old to drop off his toy guns at the O'Fallon Park Recreation Complex.
"We brought in about eight or nine guns," she says.
The Berkeley mother says she doesn't buy toy guns for him, but other people do.
"They're like 'oh it's just a gun, it's a water gun it won't do much.' But to me it's very important because eventually those toy guns turn into real guns and that's not something I want for my son."
There were three locations for parents and grandparents like Angela Roberson to bring the toy guns. She's also a volunteer with the exchange.
"Back when I was growing up, we played with toy guns, the little boys played robbers and the GI Joe things. But now as times have changed we realize that's not something we can do," Roberson says. "So I wanted them to come and see let's turn in violent toys. Their little water guns. You think it's something that's ok to play with. But what is the mindset of the kids when they're seeing this."
This day was the brain child of Pastor Rodney Francis. Pastor Ron A. Young is one of the pastors who jumped on board.
"It's not something that we're expecting to say 'here is a guaranteed answer' to the problem," says Young. "But we can make sure that we are conscious of it. And not only that, at least start to plant the seed mentally to try to change the violent culture of the community."
Critics have taken to our facebook page to say it's not the toy guns that make kids violent. Organizers and gun violence experts alike say maybe not, but maybe this idea reaches the people who need a change in mindset the most.
"I'm sure they think there are other things that they need to do in terms of dealing with the problem of violence in the community," says SLU Criminology professor Dr. Norman White. "It can't be the end all. The situation didn't get there overnight."
Pastor Young quoted the proverb - so a man thinketh so is he. He says if they can change the mentality of how kids play with each other with toy guns and other violent toys, maybe communities can start to reshape how they function in a healthy way that includes less gun violence.