Inland Empire residents among thousands exchanging guns for gift cards at LA event
By Chris Levister
Two weeks after the horrific school massacre in Connecticut, Donovan Paige, Hector Herrera, and Willie Sanders are determined to be part of the solution to America’s epidemic of gun violence. The Inland Empire residents were among the thousands of people who lined up for blocks to trade in their automatic weapons and hand guns for Ralph’s gift cards at the L.A. Sports Arena a day after Christmas.
“It’s a difficult decision, but something has to give,” That’s Paige handing over an H&K 416 pistol and a rifle to Los Angeles police. Paige says the collective outrage over the Connecticut school shootings drove his decision to travel 90 miles to the LA event.
“This baby has been in my family for generations. But it’s time to let her go,” he said. “People have a right to own guns but assault weapons have no place in our cities and households,” said Willie Sanders.
After a bit of haggling, he turned in a modified assault weapon for a $200 gift card and two handguns for two $100 gift cards.
The buyback allows residents to anonymously trade in a handgun, shotgun or rifle for a $100 gift card to local grocer, Ralph's. Those who brought assault weapons (as classified by the state of California) received a $200 gift card.
Many people came bearing multiple weapons like two young men in a red pickup truck loaded with a stash of pistols and rifles.
“We love our weapons but you have to admit gun violence is out of control,” said the driver. He says one of the three pistols he turned in was owned by a man now serving prison time for armed robbery.
City law enforcement initiated Los Angeles' buyback program in May 2009. This year, officials moved up buyback day in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I think everybody was so traumatized,” says L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “People said, 'I don't want to wait on the Congress, I'm tired of the endless debates about responsible gun control legislation, I want to do my part.”
Despite the mayor's focus on gun control, a number of participants were mostly interested in the cash incentive.
“I needed the money,” said Herrera. “But it feels good to do something to honor those kids killed in Connecticut.”
“I don’t think this is going to solve the problem of gun violence,” said Raul Quesada. I agree with the NRA on at least one point: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
But Mayor Villaraigosa countered, “There's a reason the police department supports this effort. The cops are here because they want to get these guns off the streets.” He asked, "What do we need assault weapons on the streets of L.A. for? The answer is: we don't need them and we've got to do something about it."
Mayor Villaraigosa's decision to move the city's annual gun buyback program scheduled for May to Wednesday is the latest in the trend nationwide in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn. that left 20 children and six adults dead.
Recent buy back events in Laurel Maryland, San Diego, Oakland, and Evanston, Illinois also resulted in long lines and big hauls.
NBC news in Miami reported police officials collected 100 firearms the Saturday after Newtown when they received 50 the year before. The program was so successful that officers briefly ran out of money. In Miami hand guns received $50 apiece; shotguns and rifles earned $100.
Police said six out of the 100 collected were stolen.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported an Oakland buyback program held the same day as the one in Miami garnered unprecedented results. Oakland police officials generally collected 100 guns in previous years, but were expecting 300 given the events in Conn. Instead, the city got 600 handguns and rifles in the program, which was financed by a medical marijuana club, who doubled the cash needed when the turnout was higher than expected.
In Oakland, people received $200 cash regardless the type of gun.
Camden, New Jersey is one of the most impoverished and violence-prone cities in the country. 2012 has seen a record 67 homicides. A gun buyback program began on Friday Dec. 14, the day of the Newtown shooting and continued to the next day.
The New York Post reports twice as many guns were turned in Saturday as they were Friday leading to a record number.
State officials brought in 1,137 guns, breaking the previous state-wide record of 700 in 2009. The state designated $110,000 for the program, which gave $250 for each gun, but had to offer $40,000 in IOUs because the response was greater than anticipated.
December 2010 the San Bernardino Police Department conducted a gun buyback program with similar results. The program was so successful that it ended 2 hours early, after law enforcement officers collected 211 guns before running out of funds.
Food4Less donated $10,000 in grocery gift cards for the program. Firearms classified as assault weapons were traded for $100 gift cards. Other weapons netted a $50 gift card. Among the guns turned in were AK-47, SKS and Uzi assault weapons.
The SBPD is seeking other donors and community groups to partner with for future buybacks. If you are such an entity, please call the department at 909-384-5742.
Nationwide events have been so successful gun control groups, and some state and federal officials are asking Congress to expand the program.
Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly submitted a letter signed by 39 other members of Congress urging a $200 million federal gun buyback program. In the letter, Connolly says such a program could remove as many as one million guns from the streets and "provide a jolt" to local economies with the use of a pre-paid debt card as a reward.
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