SALUDA—While the nation mourns the victims of the latest mass shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton—and as suicide rates rise in South Carolina—a United Methodist pastor is launching a gun buy-back program for the Saluda area.
As a teen, the Rev. Hillary Taylor experienced episodic depression and suicidal thoughts. Today, as a pastor, she acts out of compassion for a region with lots of guns and limited access to mental health services.
“I’m a hunter and a gun owner myself,” said Taylor, pastor of Bethany UMC and Zoar UMC in Saluda. “I support the Second Amendment, but I also know that guns and mental health problems are not a good mix. Self-harm becomes too easy—and too easily fatal.
“Not everyone who has a gun wants one around, or knows how to use one safely. Even guns that no longer work can be dangerous to have around, and a lot of people don’t know there are ways to get rid of them.”
Taylor, who is coordinating the effort with the support of other local churches, is planning the buy-back event for 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, when gun owners will receive Walmart gift cards worth $50-$150 depending on the model and make of the gun. A location for the event is still to be determined.
In the meantime, anyone who wants to support the effort can donate Walmart gift cards. To do that, please mail checks or Walmart gift cards (in increments of $50) to the following address: Bethany United Methodist Church, 1146 Hickory Grove Road, Saluda, SC 29138. Make checks out to “Bethany United Methodist Church” with “Buy-Back” in the memo line.
Following most gun buy-back events, the purchased weapons are destroyed. In this effort, however, Taylor wants to disable the guns and repurpose them in the Saluda community as gardening tools or artwork—almost literally playing out Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Nationwide, approximately 34,000 people commit suicide each year, and nearly half of suicides involve firearms, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Suicides also make up three out of every five gun-related deaths in the United States (more than homicide, mass shootings, accidents, etc.), reports BBC News.
In South Carolina, the Greenville News reports more than 90 percent of suicides are gun-related, and an article in Mental Health America notes the state ranks 50th in the nation when it comes to the availability of mental health care.