SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY: Hundreds swap guns for gift cards
So many people came to the first county-wide gun-buyback in San Bernardino County that police in Redlands had to obtain more gift cards from the grocery chain and Rialto police shut down nearly three hours early when their $18,000 supply of cards was exhausted.
In all, police collected 1,424 weapons, including 23 assault weapons. Gun owners received Stater gift cards of at least $50 for inoperable weapons, $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and $200 for assault weapons.
San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said at a news conference Friday that the guns will be melted down and used to make reinforcing bars used in construction.
"This is an opportunity for people to turn in guns that may end up being stolen," he said. "All of the weapons will be run through the stolen weapons (computer) system and any that are determined to be stolen weapons will eventually be returned to their rightful owners."
He said the weapons were being taken with no questions asked and sees the effort as a way to get guns off the street.
Gun swaps for everything from turkeys to gift baskets have been staged in Riverside County, including Riverside and Hemet, but it is not clear whether there has ever been a countywide buyback there.
A gun manufacturer teamed up with a 2nd Amendment rights group, Inland Police Officers Coalition, to set up shop outside the Stater Bros. parking lot in Redlands, offering cash in similar amounts to the gift cards in exchange for guns.
David Ives, who owns Nemesis Arms in Calimesa, would not say how many guns he purchased. He said he would be refurbishing them and re-selling them legally.
"Our taxpayer money is being wasted" in the gun-buyback program," Ives said. "They are over here buying firearms and destroying perfectly good firearms that under the 2nd Amendment can be owned and operated by legal citizens."
Bill Rhetts, a retired Los Angeles policeman, used a speaker to plead to gun owners in line at the Redlands buyback station not to turn them over to police.
"Gun restrictions and gun laws don't work," he said, "because the criminals don't play by the rules."
San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies and officers from 10 police departments across the county operated gun-buyback stations Saturday at six locations: Redlands, San Bernardino, Rialto, Upland, Victorville and Barstow.
In Victorville, so many people turned out that sheriff's deputies opened their station an hour and 45 minutes early. By 11 a.m. they had to open a second lane to accommodate traffic.
Deputies there traded gift cards for 379 weapons, including 135 rifles and two assault weapons, according to department spokeswoman Jodi Miller.
Redlands police opened their station half an hour before the official 10 a.m. start when they found a line of cars waiting. By 10:30 they had used up all 350 of their $100 gift cards – to be traded for operable handguns, rifles and shotguns.
Redlands city spokesman Carl Baker said police obtained at least $2,000 more from Stater Bros. and re-opened at 11:30 a.m. By the end of the day, Baker said police in Redlands had collected 308 guns and handed out at least $30,000 worth of gift cards.
'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH'
Carl Christopher, 29, off San Bernardino, brought in 10 shotguns and hunting rifles that had belonged to his 75-year-old grandfather.
"He doesn't need them any more," he said. "We'd rather get them off the street. At least we know they'll be destroyed and won't be used in a crime."
Joyce Christopher, Carl's 55-year-old mother, said she saw a flier advertising the buyback at an Arco gas station in Redlands, where she lives.
"My nephew was killed with a handgun three years ago," she said. "He pulled up to a stop sign and a somebody rode up on a bicycle and shot him three times. He lived (five weeks) and died on Christmas Day. It was the worst Christmas of my life.
"Get them all off the street," she said of guns. "Enough is enough. Anybody who has guns, turn them in."
Elvin and Paula Lightcap, drove 50 miles from Yucca Valley to exchange two shotguns and seven handguns they acquired when they handled the estate of a distant relative five years ago.
"We've been waiting since we cleared up the estate for a gun-buyback," Paula Lightcap said. "They never have them in Yucca Valley. I didn't know what else to do with them."
In Rialto, a line of cars stretched four blocks in 98-degree heat as gun owners waited to swap weapons for the gift cards. They turned in 180 guns, including 32 shotguns and 68 rifles, including four assault rifles that fetched $200 gift cards for each.
Rialto police Capt. Randy De Anda said officers also took in four specially modified weapons and three replica handguns.
"I don't know if they were movie props, but we took them anyway," he said. "They look real and they could be used in a robbery."
Freddie Lewis, 62, of Rialto, traded in a rifle and a semi-automatic Tec-9 pistol, which he said is illegal in California.
"I got two sons, 25 and 30 years old, living in the house now, so I wanted to get the guns out of the house," he said.
Martin Villegas, of Colton, got $100 for the sawed-off shotgun he traded in.
"I had the gun for a year," he said. "I didn't have kids with me, but I became the legal guardian of these (three school-age) kids. I feel good about getting rid of the gun."
Asked what he would do with the gift card, he said, "Like the man suggested, let's have a barbecue."
Follow Darrell R. Santschi on Twitter @DarrellSantschi and online at blog.pe.com/crime-blotter