RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Mayor Levar Stoney is announcing a new Gun Buy Back program in Richmond.

The city is using $500,000 in federal COVID relief funds to pay for the program.

Stoney said tackling city violence means taking more guns off the streets. He said that last year officials confiscated nearly 1,000 guns, 547 of which, were stolen. With the onset of this new program, they’re hoping to capture even more this year.

“This will create incentives for folks to turn in operational firearms, reducing the likelihood of them being used in violent crimes.”

The cash for guns program is one of many new initiatives aiming to sculpt a safer city after a violent 2021, which saw the highest number of homicides in two decades. Head of Richmond Human Services, Reggie Gordon, said Richmond is no stranger to violence.

“We’ve been in this situation before,” he said. “The city was the murder capitol of the United States.”

When comparing the city’s present situation to that of the 90s, 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said that last year’s homicide count is still much lower.

“We’re not close to being that high yet but it is going up again and that obviously concerns people,” Stone said.

Stone explained that back then, a program called Project Exile was put into place to try and negate the violence. The project shifted cases involving guns into federal court, where the penalties were far tougher. He said in recent years there has been talk of reviving Project Exile, but that won’t be happening this year.

“Most people think it was fairly successful because the murder rate dropped precipitously after several years of project exile,” Stone said.

The mayor’s office did release a statement on reviving Project Exile, saying:

Project Exile was a success in the 90s, but since that time cities have learned how to implement other effective strategies. We believe investing in a holistic approach to caring for our community – including a Gun Violence Prevention program that provides wrap around support services, community intervention, trusted messengers and initiatives like our Gun Buy Back program — can make a significant impact in preventing violence and making our neighborhoods safer.

The Office of Mayor Levar Stoney

Details about the gun buy-back program itself are limited. When asked about the launch date of the program, or how much cash per gun will be given, Stoney tossed the torch to the Richmond Police Department, who has not yet released any detailed information about the program either.

The $500,000 gun buy-back program will use money from the city’s Federal American Rescue Act funds.