LA residents swap guns for groceries
Photo: Buy back: Los Angeles residents can anonymously trade in their guns in return for grocery store gift cards. (Reuters: David McNew)
The mayor of Los Angeles has backed US president Barack Obama's call for a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines.Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa brought forward the date of a gun buyback event following the December 14 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 people dead.
The Boxing Day buyback saw 1,016 weapons, including 41 rifles, handed over.
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.
"Cities and states must join with the federal government to do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to keep our community safe and to get deadly weapons off our streets," Mr Villaraigosa said.
"It is absolutely critical to provide Angelinos with concrete actions they can take today to make our city safer tomorrow."
Los Angeles' police chief Charlie Beck said 8,000 weapons had been handed in since the program started in 2009.
"We have literally cut gun violence by over a third, a remarkable statistic when many, many parts of our region and our country are not seeing decreases in crime," he said.
Long lines of cars formed as Los Angeles gun owners turned in weapons.
Sergeant Rudy Lopez from the LAPD said the fact that police were asking no questions was a key incentive.
"See that? That's a silencer," he said, pointing to an assault weapon.
"That's illegal. We didn't say anything."
Weapons turned in also included TEC-9 semi-automatic handguns, as well as World War II rifles and vintage shotguns, one dating from 1895.
Separate trashcans were available for rifles, handguns, shotguns and ammunition and one for magazines. They were half-full by lunchtime.
A table displayed at least 16 assault weapons.
Nearby protesters voiced their disapproval over the buyback program.
Critics question the effectiveness of gun buyback events, arguing that the weapons surrendered tend to be the least likely to be used in criminal activities, such as guns which are old or malfunctioning.
"Get $$ for your gun ... We buy your gun to donate it to a woman in danger. An armed woman will not be a victim," said one poster advertising a website.
"Many countries have fallen into tyranny because people were unarmed," George Siegel, a 35-year-old merchant mariner told AFP.
Asked about criticism that the Connecticut shootings could have been partly due to America's comparatively liberal gun laws, he said: "That's very disrespectful. They are trying to play with people's emotions."
Another gun buyback event has been planned for May.