Since his childhood, Ian Johnstone has been unwittingly close to the issue of gun violence in America.
When Ian Johnstone was just 10 years old, his father was shot during a random robbery attempt in San Francisco. The perpetrators were a group of teenagers who had been using drugs; the 16-year-old shooter fired once into the elder Johnstone’s back, instantly paralyzing him. A week later, his dad died in the hospital from complications.
It goes without saying that Johnstone can personally attest to how the improper use of a firearm can devastate a family. He and his sister had to grow up without a father and their mother without the man “she had planned on spending the rest of her life with.”
“You can’t help but feel frustrated and jaded and powerless about the issue,” says Johnstone.
Those feelings returned to the forefront of his mind in late 2013 after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. While living in the San Francisco bay area and working in the tech industry, the idea of crowdfunding gun buyback programs came up while he was speaking with a group of friends. Instead of relying on funds from cities or grants, money raised to finance buybacks could come from private online donations — often from people in the very communities most affected by gun violence.
From this conversation, Gun By Gun was born. In less than two years, the organization has crowdsourced more than $80,000, using the money to collect more than 750 guns in four cities over the course of five campaigns.
Criticisms of gun buybacks stretch back to the 1960s when the programs first started being widely used. One of the strongest arguments against them was that they often collected inoperable firearms (certainly not the guns making America’s streets dangerous). To ensure that it only pays for working firearms, Gun By Gun, like most modern buyback programs, has a range specialist on hand at all their events.
Another criticism of these initiatives is that they only collect a small percentage of the guns out there in America (a number, which experts estimate to be anywhere between 270 million to 310 million). Johnstone acknowledges that the impact of Gun By Gun “may not be a drop in the bucket,” but cites the importance of letting communities affected by violence do something concrete together to address the problem.
Ultimately, Johnstone hopes Gun By Gun can be a catalyst for inspiring further action aimed at reducing gun violence. He points to the diversity of the people that the program has already brought together, from mothers who lost their children, to police officers and former criminals.
“Gun By Gun has been a way that I feel I can add meaning to the death of my father,” says Johnstone. “I’ve met so many people who have lost loved ones to gun violence and they want to do something which is, frankly, its part of the healing process.”