By Mekialaya White

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) — Aurora and Denver city leaders say now is the time to drive change after recent youth violence in their communities.

“Our hearts break at the violence we have seen in our communities, especially since the start of the pandemic. Our residents should never feel afraid to spend an afternoon at a community park or to attend a neighborhood school,” a press release issued by the cities read on Monday.

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Starting in March 2022, a new gun buyback program will be implemented in hopes of remedying the problem.

“Our goal is to get guns off the street. What we’re seeing is an extraordinary uptick in crime in both Denver and Aurora,” Denver District 5 Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer told CBS4’s Mekialaya White via Zoom.

Sawyer says now is the time to take action, after a massive increase in violent and property crime in recent weeks. That includes two shootings in Aurora injuring several teenagers just last week.

“I think for a long time there’s been a hesitancy for government to get involved in a program like this, especially in the metro area. There’s a crisis in our communities, especially with young people,” echoed Aurora Councilman-at-Large Curtis Gardner. “So, we are partnering with Colorado Springs-based nonprofit RawTools that will take guns volunteered at our buyback that will turn them into garden tools and jewelry. It creates a really neat synergy for the community.”

“We think it’ll be a really valuable partnership between both cities,” added Sawyer.

At each buyback, residents can turn in firearms anonymously.

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“It’s what our community’s asking for. We’ve heard from young people that feel like they need to own a firearm to defend themselves, and they want to turn their weapons in because they don’t want to turn to guns,” Gardner said.

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The events will be staffed by volunteers and hosted by community partners that share their goals: helping people dispose of guns safely.

“A lot of guns that are used in crime are actually stolen from homeowners that don’t have the ability to store them in their homes or in their car and what happens is those firearms are stolen and used in a crime later on,” said Gardner.

He adds, it’s a tangible first step as part of an overall strategy.

“That includes mental health funding, increased youth programming. There’s a variety of tools that we have. There’s a number of tools that we have in our tool belt to attack this problem.”

Sawyer is also looking to give the community hope right now.

“Our community needs to come together and move forward. Every single one of those guns is an opportunity to save someone’s life.”

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Official dates and times of the gun buybacks will be announced in January. So far, there are four events planned in Aurora and four in Denver.

Mekialaya White