This article was originally published on Intersections South LA.
A World War II rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher, a 9mm handgun inlaid with silver and a Mexican flag emblem, and the type of semi-automatic rifle used by the Sandy Hook gunman will soon meet the same fate: meltdown.
The Los Angeles Police Department collected 950 weapons last weekend in its eighth annual buyback program that gives Angelenos gift cards for guns, no questions asked.
See also on Intersections: Tackling gun violence in South LA
Police Chief Charlie Beck said the program intends to rid homes and streets of “unwanted” arms.
“Many of these are forgotten guns — they come from closets, from attics, places where no one inventories them,” he said at a press conference Monday at LAPD headquarters. “They are guns that go unnoticed, and they fall into the wrong hands.”
Working from four sites around the city last Saturday including two in South L.A., officers provided $100 Ralph’s gift cards in exchange for most guns and $200 cards for assault weapons — many of which are illegal even to own in California.
Mayor Eric Garcetti, who stood alongside Beck at the conference and at one point hoisted a hefty shotgun into the air, said some of the collected weapons were “unsecured.” These guns without locks and other safety features could pose particular hazards to children and mentally ill people, he said.
At the Sports Center buyback station last weekend, Garcetti met a man who surrendered 17 guns belonging to his father, a licensed gun dealer who was developing dementia. The house just “didn’t feel secure anymore,” Garcetti said the man had told him.
One of the buyback’s goals is to make it harder for people to buy guns off the street, LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green of the South Bureau said in an interview.
“Anybody can ultimately can get a gun, but it depends on how available they are,” he said. “With fewer guns that they can access in these communities, they must put much more work into getting a weapon.”
In South L.A., guns are the weapons of choice for gangs, said Green. Although crime has decreased, for the last 30 years gang members have felt compelled to carry arms as self-protection against rivals.
“They tell me, ‘Hey, I’d rather be caught by police than get caught on the street without a gun to defend myself,’” said Green.
The buyback is just one strategy of many to reduce violence in South L.A.
Gang injunctions help too, Green said, as well as various programs emphasizing gang prevention and intervention. Summer Night Lights, for example, provides evening activities to keep kids and teenagers busy when school is out.
Beck said officers will not run ballistic tests on the collected guns, or use them as evidence to prosecute crimes. A detective said they will, however, attempt to return stolen guns to their owners.
The only other way these guns will return to L.A. streets, Beck said with a smile, is as the reinforced steel holding up houses and bridges.
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