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New program trades video games for guns

Milagros Canales Games for Gunz
Milagros Canales, founder and CEO of Games for Gunz

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - Allentown’s City Council voted to spend $10,000 of taxpayer money recently on video games.

But it’s for a good cause.

  • A new initiative called Games for Guns is targeting teen gun violence by allowing firearm trade-ins for video game consoles
  • Allentown City Council has committed $10,000 to the program
  • Games for Gunz will provide mentors to teens who trade-in firearms to engage with them after the buybacks have occurred

The effort is hoped to help get guns out of the hands of teenagers and replace them with game controllers.
“The potential guns that I want, I need to target them specifically,” said Milagros Canales, who founded the Games for Gunz initiative.

Often, Canales said, gun buyback programs offer about $100 for a firearm.

But those programs typically bring in individuals who want to get rid of damaged or aging firearms that likely wouldn't be used in street violence, she said.

“My buyback isn’t going to work if I offer $100 because I’m just going to get those grannies who are going to go in the garage and get those damn nasty guns that nobody wants,'' she said.

Instead, she wants to make sure her program would offer something different—something for which teens might be willing to put down a weapon and come in off the streets.

That’s how, Canales said, she came up with the idea to offer video game consoles.

A few months back, while walking her dog, Canales recalled that she spoke to a group of teenagers whom she frequently saw hanging around near Law and Liberty streets in Allentown in the evenings.

In conversation, Canales said, she offered the group $100 for a “hammer”—urban lingo for a gun, she noted—but the teens balked.

“My buyback isn’t going to work if I offer $100 because I’m just going to get those grannies who are going to go in the garage and get those damn nasty guns that nobody wants."
Games for Gunz Founder and CEO Milagros Canales

"One kid said to me, 'No disrespect, but ain't nobody gonna give you no hammer for no hundred dollars, at least not one that's working,' " she recalled.

Then, Canales switched course.

“I said, ‘I got in my truck — I didn’t tell them where — I got a Playstation 5,’ and the one kid said ‘You ain’t got a Playstation 5.’ So I said, ‘if I did, would you give me [a gun]?

“He said, ‘If you had a Playstation 5, I’d give it to you.” So I said, ‘How about this? If I had a Playstation 5, a controller, a headset and an extra game, would you give me two [guns]?’

"Well, the kid turned around and he said to me, `If you had that, I’ll give you two and I’ll go home.’ I took two steps back. I almost tripped over my own dog,” Canales said.

That interaction made her realize that, if she could provide what teens want, she might be able to get weapons out of their hands.

“Kids want to be kids," she said. "They just want to be kids.”

Last week, Allentown City Council provided $10,000 for her new gun buyback program—at the same meeting where council promised $1.5 million to another gun violence prevention initiative, the credible messenger program.

She’s raised more than over $6,500 on her own, she said.

She also expects to secure additional funding before the initiative holds its first buyback.

But while she expects to announce more details about the buyback program in a few weeks, she currently is looking for mentors who could work with some of the teens who turn in firearms.

Because another aspect of the program is to team up anyone who receives a console—she explained that one gun would earn a console, two or more firearms would award a package of console, controller, headset and game—with a mentor to check in with the teen afterward.

“They aren’t just left with, ‘OK, I got this game and nothing else,’" she said. "No, you got more than just a game. You’ve got a community behind you that wants to engage with you, that wants to discover new things with you and wants to converse with you.

"We don’t want you to just take this game and be about it. No. We want to have that conversation. We want to know, ‘What can we do to help you?’”

To learn more about the Games for Gunz initiative, or to offer to be a mentor, call 484-245-4146.