An LAPD officer stands before collected assault weapons during the LAPD Gun Buyback Program event in the Van Nuys area of north Los Angeles, on December 26, 2012. Los Angeles' no-questions-asked gun buyback event, where weapons could be exchanged for up to $200, was held five months early after the Connecticut school shooting. Gun owners could take their arms to one of two locations in return for a $100 grocery store gift card for handguns, rifles and shotguns, or a $200 card for automatic weapons. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Judging by the overwhelming response at Wednesday's annual gun buyback program in Los Angeles, it seems Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's decision to bump the event forward five months in the wake of the tragic mass shooting in Connecticut was a smart one.
Droves of people with guns in hand lined up at the L.A. Memorial Sports Arena and Van Nuys Masonic Temple from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the day after Christmas, exchanging their guns anonymously, "no questions asked," for Ralphs gift cards. Assault weapons (as specified by the State of California) donations scored $200 gift cards, while handguns, rifles and shotguns were exchanged for up to $100 gift cards. The turnout was so great that police actually ran out of gift cards. The budget, according to KTLA, was $150,000.
Although exact turnout figures will be announced later today, the Los Angeles Police Department, which organized the event, estimates the number of weapons turned in matched that of last year—1,673—which was a four-year low.
Yesterday's gun buyback event marks the fifth in L.A., and due to the short 10-day planning window, only two drop-off sites were organized; there are usually six.
City News Service reports on some of the responses by city officials on Wednesday. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck held up a semi-automatic weapon, similar to the one used to kill two firefighters in Webster, New York, Monday and elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14. Villaraigosa, who noted that the line at the Sports Arena "was seven or eight blocks long," said, "Our national heartbreak has started a national conversation."
Many participants who turned in weapons said their motivation was the tragic Connecticut massacre.
UPDATE, 10:20 A.M.: And the numbers are in! Villaraigosa announced today that 2,037 firearms were surrendered yesterday, topping May's count by 364. Since 2009, a total of 9,979 firearms have been bought back as part of the exchange program.
Here's a breakdown of Wednesday's collection, according to CNS: 901 handguns, 698 rifles, 363 shotguns and 75 assault weapons.
While Villaraigosa acknowledged in May that the surrendered guns would have unlikely been used in crimes, he said today, "For too long, dangerous weapons have contributed to countless unnecessary tragedies and deaths." He added, "The citywide gun buyback effort takes dangerous weapons off our streets and rewards Angelenos who voluntarily surrender their firearms, making our communities safer for us all."