Hastily organized gun buyback events at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and Van Nuys Masonic Temple Wednesday in response to the elementary-school shooting in Connecticut drew so many participants police ran out of gift cards.
Los Angeles Police Department officials were on hand at both locations from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. to accept weapons. A shorter-than-usual, 10-day planning window required the city to offer only the two drop-off sites rather than the usual six, according to Vicki Curry of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office.
Nonetheless, a rough estimate indicated about as many weapons were turned in Wednesday as had been garnered last year at a much larger program. Exact figures will be announced Thursday, said LAPD Officer Venus Hall.
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Villaraigosa announced on Dec. 17 that he was accelerating the buyback program from its regular time in May in response to the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, CT, that left 20 students and six adults at the school dead in addition to the shooter.
"Cities and states must join with the federal government to do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to keep our communities safe," Villaraigosa said. "It is absolutely critical to provide Angelenos with concrete actions they can take today to make our city safer tomorrow."
Per the usual buyback program, gun owners were able to donate weapons anonymously, "no questions asked," Villaraigosa stressed. People who traded in automatic weapons were given $200 Ralphs grocery store gift cards. Handguns, rifles and shotguns were exchanged for $100 gift cards.
The city's fourth annual Gun Buyback Program, in May, netted 1,673 firearms, a four-year low.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck held up a semi-automatic weapon, similar to the type used to kill two firefighters in Webster, NY, Monday and elementary school students in Connecticut.
"Our national heartbreak has started a national conversation," Villaraigosa said. He pointed to the line of people turning in weapons at the Sports Arena saying, "it was seven or eight blocks long."
One such person was Erik Rangel, a property manager, who told KCAL, "I was really driven to bring this gun in today."
Another woman said she was turning in some guns to prevent "someone from doing something really bad."
Brian Turner turned in an assault weapon, telling KCAL: "I don't need it, I have no use for it," and pointed out with his gift card, he'd be able to "buy something legal."
As Beck was calling gun buybacks one tool among many to prevent gun violence, however, their value was questioned by a 2004 report by the National Academy of Sciences.
"Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review," found that "the theory underlying gun buyback programs is badly flawed, and the empirical evidence demonstrates the ineffectiveness of these programs."
The report found that guns that are typically surrendered in buyback programs are those that are least likely to be used in criminal activities, such as guns that are old or malfunctioning and guns owned by people who derive little value from possessing them.