Emma Diggs lives across the street from the McElderry Community Association Center, so she was able to watch yesterday until the line of people waiting in the hot sun to trade guns for laptop computers eased up.
Then she got the handgun that was lying around the house unused for years – “doing nothing” – walked over to the Baltimore city police officers supervising the swap and handed it over.
“I’ve had it for 20 years. When my aunt passed away it was given to me by my nephew,” said Diggs, 75, a retired employee at the Department of Motor Vehicles. She said she plans to take classes at the center on how to use the laptop, a sleek black Hewlett-Packard.
What will she then do with her new computer?
“Play games, look around, keep myself busy,” she said, adding that she is a big supporter of the “Stop Shooting, Start Coding” computers-for-guns initiative co-sponsored by technology entrepreneur Lance Lucas.
“It’s a good thing. If you don’t have an alarm and somebody breaks in and takes a gun, that’s a gun that could be used for a crime,” Diggs said. “This is an opportunity to keep that from happening.”
As part of the “Stop Shooting, Start Coding” program, Lucas’ company, Digit All Systems (DAS), will train people to become certified computer technicians. Lucas said there is a full list of participants signed up for the classes to be held at the McElderry center starting August 18.
Lucas was almost as proud of the classroom participation drummed up yesterday as he was of the guns collected (25 of them by the end of four hours.)
“We’ve got 50 A+ CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association) sign-ups!” he announced last night via text.
Jason Brooks, a University of Maryland Baltimore County student and software developer who teaches coding at Lucas’ company, called programs like the gun swap and computer training “a start.”
“You’ve gotta show people you care, that you believe in them,” Brooks said.
“Look at all the CEOs in tech – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. What do they have in common – they’re white men,” Lucas added. “We need to look at ‘How did they get to where they are? What do we need to do?’”
Short Guns, Long Guns, Bullets
As with last summer’s swap, people came yesterday with guns they carried in plastic bags and handbags, one man walking in on crutches, another using a wheelchair.
They brought long guns, handguns and even a box of bullets, turning them in at the door to police officers who secured them with blue plastic ties, tagged them and placed them in a plastic milk crate.
The firearms collected yesterday, police said, are the kinds they see being used in connection with crimes. The guns will be examined to determine whether they could be traced to any open criminal investigation and, if not, destroyed.
“My deceased husband had an old gun and I just thought, this would be a great thing to do with it,” said Estella Williams, 53.
A State Highway Administration employee, Williams was eager to use her new laptop for work tasks, replacing one that “died.”
“I do Power Points and Microsoft Office and spreadsheets,” she said. “This is going to really help me with work.”
A retired carpenter who came with a plastic bag containing a 9 millimeter handgun carried with him a deeply serious demeanor. “I really hope they melt it down,” he said.
“It’s one less gun somebody might get ahold of,” the 67-year-old said. “The way people are killing each other around here, this can’t help but be a good thing.”