IOU's written for gun buyback day

May 2, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
"One Less Gun" was the name of a huge gun buyback held in Oakland recently. So many weapons were turned in that Oakland Police ran out of cash and had to issue vouchers, or IOU's to hundreds of people. Some say the event was a huge success, but others believe it was all a big waste of time and money.

The line stretched for blocks as people came by the hundreds from as far away as Reno, guns in hand, in search of cash.

"I turned in a 357 magnum," said a woman.

After a wave of shootings in Oakland, including that of ten-year-old piano student Christopher Rodriguez, politicians, police and several churches came together to stage a massive gun buyback.

With more than a thousand people, the turnout was bigger than anyone imagined. The lure was $250 cash for a working gun, no questions asked.

"I had a gun that was my grandfather's and it was not anything that I used. It was old. It was an automatic from the World War II era," said Tim Kerns, a gun buyback participant.

Tim Kerns waited in line in his car for three hours. He'll never forget what he saw, during that time.

"Two cars in front of me when we pulled in, four guys got out and starting unloading literally boxes filled with guns," said Kerns. "At one point, a guy was walking up and down the line of cars saying 'If anyone has an assault rifle, I'll give you $300 for it. Don't take $250, I'll give you $300.'"

Kerns did get $250 cash for his grandfather's old gun, but many others did not as organizers quickly ran out of money.

When the cash ran out the day of the gun buybacks, the Oakland Police Department started issuing IOU's totaling $170,000.

Oakland Police Spokesman Roland Holmgren says the department will pay the IOU's with money mostly from outside sources, like the Alameda County District Attorney's Office.

"Rather than turn these people away, have them wait out there after they'd been waiting to turn these guns in, we took a good faith effort and said 'Okay, we'll give you this voucher and we'll make a promise to get you the money.'" said Roland Holmgren from the Oakland Police Department.

Despite ending up with a big tab, Oakland Police believe the buyback was a success. Though next time, they might limit the event to Oakland residents or set limits on the type and number of guns an individual can sell.

Still, others wonder whether getting these particular guns off the street will really put a dent in violent crime.

"What you will typically see are very old revolvers that have been sitting in somebody's nightstand, or old hunting rifles that had been up over the fireplace for generations. These are not the guns that criminals use," said Guy Smith, an anti-gun control activist and Alameda author.

Dr. Garen Wintemute is an emergency room doctor at the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento who's also done extensive research on gun buybacks.

"One of the hits on the standard buyback program in this country is that the guns that are turned in are not the kinds of guns that are used in crime. And they are turned in often by people who are at low risk for doing violence and for that matter, being the victim of violence," said Dr. Garen Wintemute M.D., a gun buyback researcher.

"Is there empirical data to prove this is successful? No," said State Senator Don Perata.

Perata helped organize the Oakland buyback, after he was the victim of an armed carjacking late last year. He turned in his own .357 magnum at the buyback, but still keeps a shotgun at home for protection.

"A lot of guns aren't purchased at a gun store. They're stolen in a robbery. They're inadvertently left where a child could bring it to school or out on the street. And so the theory of getting as many guns out of the community as possible, I think, holds up," said Perata.

Perata hopes to raise more money to have another buyback in Oakland in the coming months, even if chances are the guns that arrive, didn't come from the closet of a criminal.


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