The city of Fall River, Massachusetts, was featured on national news in the summer of 1994 when a city police officer was gunned down while on duty issuing parking permits for a city celebration. The community was outraged by such needless and unwarranted violence in a quiet New England mill city that took pride in its law-abiding, respectful population.
As the minister of a large, urban church in the heart of Fall River, Reverend Dr. Robert Lawrence felt the need to make a public statement, not just in words, but communicated through a place for action that demonstrated his concern for public safety. It occurred to him that there was an urgent need to get guns off the city streets. Because of Fall River’s high unemployment rate and a population that is economically disadvantaged, Lawrence felt that groceries would be in greater demand than guns. As a result, he voluntarily raised the necessary funds to purchase weapons from gun owners in exchange for $50 grocery certificates. He formulated a gun buy-back program entitled “Guns for Groceries.”
Lawrence presented his program to the Mayor of Fall River and the Chief of Police, both of whom enthusiastically endorsed the plan that would ensure safer streets. The program was supported by the neighboring towns of Somerset, Swansea, Westport, and Dartmouth, Massachusetts, as well as Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth, Rhode Island. In the three-year period during which Lawrence has carried out his “Guns for Groceries” program, nearly 1,200 assault weapons, shotguns, 22-caliber guns, 38-caliber “Saturday Night Specials,” and a large variety of foreign-made gunds were redeemed for grocery certificates and taken to a foundry to be destroyed.
In May 1998, Lawrence presented the 1,000th gun to the former Governor of Massachusetts and former Democratic candidate for the Presidency of the United States, Michael Dukakis. He expressed his feeling that the voluntary efforts of Lawrence resulted in a significant project that contributed to the safety of the general public and potentially saved many lives.
Lawrence “Guns for Groceries” program continues to be held twice a year and is recognized by the general public and by law-enforcement officials as a substantial deterrent to crime. The city of Fall River has expressed appreciation for the effectiveness of this program through honors awarded to Lawrence in recognition of his concern and compassion for the safety of innocent people and his accomplishment in creating and managing a program that greatly benefits society by combating violence.