Trading guns for bail? One startup's improbable plan for reducing violence - Baltimore


Nov. 4, 2016 7:37 am

Trading guns for bail? One startup’s improbable plan for reducing violence

Baltimore native Trevor Brooks started GunBail with an innovative approach to gun buyback. For him, it's personal.

You've got bail.

(Photo by Flickr user Cory Barnes, used under a Creative Commons license)

Trevor Brooks knows about the intertwining of illegal guns, violence and the justice system — a toxic tapestry that has long held Baltimore back.

Talking about his startup, GunBail, he rattles off a number of stats. About 97 percent of homicides are committed with illegal guns in the U.S., and 55 percent of offenders have access to an illegal gun, he said.

"I want to change the condition that I came from."
Trevor Brooks, GunBail

Brooks also understands these issues because he has seen them firsthand.

The Baltimore native says he first got his hands on a gun at age 12, and later spent time in prison on a homicide conviction that was later overturned. While in prison, he took courses and did legal research that eventually helped him get out. But in his studies, he wanted to make a difference for more than just himself. He said he thought, “If I get another chance, what I want to do is make it better for other people.”

Brooks spent time at the Silicon Valley-based NewMe Accelerator earlier this year. The app is now on Google Play. Over the summer, he returned to Baltimore.

With the city’s notorious homicide rate, Brooks thinks GunBail can make an impact here. It’s also personal.

“I want to change the condition that I came from,” he said.

The system is built on the premise that people who were arrested and cannot afford bail will trade in a gun to get out.

“They will value their freedom over their guns,” Brooks said. Along with getting guns off the street, Brooks believes that offenders are the right population to target to stop violence. Another stat: 55 percent of offenders have access to an illegal gun. “They are the guys that have the weapons,” he said. “They are the guys that are going to commit the next armed robbery.”

GunBail’s app allows users to take pictures of their guns and register them. Then, they are sent a secure box, with trigger lock, to send the gun in. There is a $99 fee paid to the company for shipping and other costs. Brooks said it’s designed to be in line with gun buyback statutes. The gun covers bail for the initial release after a person is arrested, not charges or future court dates.


Brooks is looking to partner with a city. He wants to start in Baltimore with a pilot program to collect data. He recently partnered with Baltimore 1000, an initiative looking to create jobs and economic empowerment led by former Raven Ray Lewis, and pitched at an event featuring African-American entrepreneurs at Harbor Bank.

Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the lead reporter for Baltimore. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. While there, he also wrote for Times-Picayune. He was previously a reporter for the Rio Grande Sun of Northern New Mexico.

  • wemorton

    Does he have a FFL? Does the City of Baltimore have an FFL in it’s name (NOT one of it’s employees, the city itself). What if the firearm he buys (technically, it would be a purchase/sale) is a stolen firearm? Is he going to attempt to trace it back to the owner? In the case of a stolen firearm taken in lieu of cash for bail, wouldn’t that make him guilty of trafficking in stolen goods (a, “fence”)? If he receives a firearm from a previously convicted felon who has not had his rights restored (prohibited person) isn’t he aiding and abetting said felon? Is he going to return the firearm after the disposition of the case if the individual comes up with the money to buy it back? What happens to the firearms that are not returned to rightful owners? Where and how are the firearms going to be stored? Who is going to be responsible for maintaining and accounting for the inventory?

    I can see this will probably be a huge can of worms that will probably lead to numerous felony convictions and a rather lengthy all expenses paid trip right back to the big house. He might have gotten an education while he was away before, but he really didn’t learn anything.

    Many bailbondsmen and lawyers take firearms in lieu of cash for their services, those with a working moral compass run the serial numbers before taking actual possession – frequently causing additional charges to be filed against the, “alleged offender”.

  • Justsomeguy

    Sounds like a wonderful way to encourage more gun thefts. I would say no to this silly idea.


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