Columbia man runs toy exchange to fire back at gun violence

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COLUMBIA – A man plagued by gun violence opened his second annual toy exchange Friday, allowing parents to swap their kids’ toy guns with a new toy or five dollar gift certificate.

Operation K.I.T.E. Foundation Founder Marcus Buford started the exchange last year to make an impact on what he calls a worldwide problem.

“Gun violence is everywhere,” Buford said. “If I can get one kid to come in and get rid of their toy gun and move away from that type of play, that makes this a success.”

Buford said a person his cousin met on Facebook shot and killed her just the week before. He said that was his second cousin killed by gunfire.

“I had to bury my own cousin, again,” Buford said. “But that’s where my passion comes from, so I can give something positive to these kids and make a difference.”

Some people do not agree with the complete removal of gun culture from homes. Ellen Kliethermes of A Girl & a Gun Women’s Shooting League is a mother of three children and said the guns do not create the problem.

“Guns are not violent or unsafe,” Kliethermes said. “Uneducated people make them unsafe.”

She also said it is more dangerous to keep guns completely out of a child’s life than it may seem.

“Children are naturally curious creatures,” Kliethermes said. “If you prevent them from having anything to do with guns, the first thing they’ll do when they see one is want to touch it and see…how it works.”

Despite those opinions, Buford said he would continue his mission.

“I think if I can get them to focus on other things, positive things in life, that can go a long way in terms of making a difference,” Buford said.

He said the toy exchange will be available all year starting January 1.

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