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L.A. County took 5,337 weapons off the streets in Gifts for Guns program [Updated]

December 30, 2009 |  5:37 pm


L.A. County’s gun exchange program collected 5,337 weapons in 2009, including 144 assault-style rifles.

[Updated at 7:30 p.m.: Officials slightly understated the numbers of guns collected in an earlier version of this post.]

 The Sheriff’s Department, along with supporters of the Gifts for Guns program, handed out more than $428,100 in gift cards throughout the year at supermarket parking lots around the county in exchange for the guns.

“I tell the deputies if it is a gun that could harm one of our deputies, then it is a gun we want off the street,” said Lt. Anthony Lucia, who oversaw the collection of 281 weapons at a Ralphs in Compton this week.

One man there turned in 58 weapons, mostly small-caliber firearms. Handguns, rifles and shotguns were exchanged with no questions asked for $50, $100 and $200 gift cards from Ralphs, Food 4 Less or Target. 

Sheriff’s officials have collected weapons in the Antelope Valley, San Gabriel Valley, Santa Clarita and southeast L.A. County. Gun buyback programs have attracted attention in cities across the country, but studies of their effectiveness in St. Louis in 1991 and 1994 found no demonstrable impact on firearm-related homicide and assault rates.

Nonetheless, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has made the exchanges a staple, and officials believe the program is making a difference. Almost ever month, one of the sheriff's stations has gun donors lining up in their cars and deputies loading the weapons into shopping carts to be eventually destroyed at a steel works and turned into building materials.

“We use the rebar to build schools and other places to help the communities,” Sheriff Lee Baca said.

--Richard Winton

More photos: Trading guns for gifts

Photo: Sheriff's deputies inspect and inventory about a dozen civilian versions of military assault rifles during a Gifts for Guns exchange in Compton on Tuesday. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times