A St. Louis, Mo., pastor has announced his plans to hold a toy gun buyback event at his church in the upcoming months in order to encourage youth to play with more "wholesome" toys.
Rodney Francis, pastor of Washington Tabernacle Baptist Church in St. Louis, told The Christian Post that the buyback will encourage parents to trade in their children's toy knives, guns, swords, and all other toys "designed to hurt" for more "wholesome toys."
Francis told CP that the idea came about when his congregation participated in a forum on gun violence on Friday, Feb. 22, during which they learned that 108 people had been shot to death in St. Louis in 2012.
Out of these 108 shootings, 42 of the victims had been under the age of 25.
"One of the things that kept coming out of the conversation with public safety officials is that there is a 'culture of violence' that we have to begin to address," Francis said of the public forum on gun violence.
Francis went on to tell CP that his congregation saw a toy gun buyback event as an opportunity to begin the conversation regarding this "culture of violence."
"We need to address the culture of violence starting with our parents, toddlers, and children," Francis said, adding "it's easier to bend a twig than an oak."
The pastor went on to indicate that the buyback event will also give parents the opportunity to trade in their children's misogynistic music and violent video games, but the focus still remains on toy guns.
"The fact that guns are so accessible in our community is one of the reasons that so many of our kids are dying early," Francis told CP.
Francis added that although he and his congregation do not want to get involved in a political debate regarding Second Amendment rights, he does support legislation which calls for a greater accountability of gun possession, as well as legislation that would slow the proliferation of "black market" guns into the community.
The congregation's plans for a toy gun buyback event have gained such a large amount of media coverage that Francis says they are hoping to bring the event to a national level, and the committee for the event is currently trying to determine the most strategic time to hold the event.
Francis told CP that the buyback event will probably take place closer to the start of summer 2013.
The issue of gun control in the U.S., especially among youth, has become more prevalent since the mass shooting which took place in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were killed.
Some schools have already taken disciplinary measures to end references to gun violence on campus.
For example, The Associated Press reported in January that a 5-year-old girl from Pennsylvania had been suspended for telling a friend she was going to shoot her with a pink toy gun that blows soapy bubbles.
In another example, two 6-year-old students were suspended in Maryland in January for making "gun signs" with their hands during recess.