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L.A.'s gun buyback program produces long lines

December 26, 2012 |  1:56 pm

More than 575 guns had been collected by mid-day Wednesday in L.A.'s gun buyback, as people waited for up to two hours to turn over firearms -- no questions asked -- in exchange for gift cards.

While police say the bulk of the guns are "mom and pop guns" -- hunting rifles and shotguns -- the haul includes a handful of larger-scale weapons, including at least 15 assault rifles.

At the Van Nuys buyback station -- one of two in the city of Los Angeles -- one of the first guns to be collected was a Bushmaster rifle that was the same type used at this month's massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

PHOTOS: L.A. gun buyback

Other guns collected included semiautomatic handguns typically associated with gang violence and street crime.

Those seeking to turn in weapons were asked to bring them inside vehicle trunks. As each car approached the front of the long line at the Van Nuys Masonic Temple, officers asked and what type of gun had been brought and where it was in the car.

Drivers who wanted to hand over the guns for free were waved through. Those seeking gift cards bartered a price with officers based on the gun's type, model and condition.

Once the guns were turned in, officers checked twice to make sure they were unloaded before tossing them into bins.

"I'm a big Second Amendment guy, but I also think that if people want to get rid of these things they should have a safe way to do so," said LAPD Det. Doug Johnson, as he pointed a hunting rifle to the sky and checked it for ammo at the Van Nuys location.

Many officers on the scene marveled at the turnout, and by 11 a.m., were concerned that the stockpile of grocery gift cards might run out.

"What do you got?" an officer asked a man in his late 20s as he pulled up.

"Just one handgun, I've had it since high school," the man replied, motioning to the back of his green Mazda.

"Will you take $50 for this?"

"Sure."

At the buyback site at the L.A. Sports Arena, police doubled the number of officers originally on the scene and opened up two lines to reduce waiting times.

"So far we still have enough gift cards," Cmdr. Andy Smith said. "We're working on a contingency plan in the event we run out. Right now we're fine."

By noon, authorities had distributed about half of the $100,000 in gift cards allocated for the buyback, Smith said.

Many of those turning in guns in Van Nuys came bearing more than one. Officers pulled 22 pistols from the trunk of one white Honda, a haul that earned the driver $1,000.

Many of the drivers said they were turning in their guns because they rarely use them, and were eager to snag grocery cards.

"I never use it, so just thought I'd come get a little grocery money," said Oscar, who received $25 for a small pistol, and asked that his last name not be used. 

Police ask no questions of those turning in guns. The weapons are all destroyed after police check records to make sure none have been reported stolen.

PHOTOS: L.A. gun buyback

The gun buyback, which typically takes place around Mother's Day, was moved up five months following the Newtown school shooting.

Few people cited the mass shooting as their incentive for getting rid of their weapons, but one father of three from Simi Valley said it was enough to convince him to drive to Van Nuys to turn over the .22-caliber rifle he purchased for protection in 1979.

"It's never been used, never been fired," said Edgar, who asked that his last name not be used. 

The Newtown shooting made him reconsider keeping a gun in his home. His kids didn't even know he had a gun, but he didn't want to risk them stumbling upon it, he said.

"After the Connecticut shooting I just had to turn this in," he said. "If you have a gun, you might end up using it. I'd rather just not have one."

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-- Wesley Lowery in Van Nuys and Adolfo Flores in Los Angeles

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