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Cash-for-Guns Plan Studied in Santa Ana

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Citing a “staggering” increase in the number of guns on school campuses and elsewhere in the city, City Councilman Daniel E. Griset has proposed that a cash “bounty” be paid to anyone willing to turn in their firearms.

“Handguns and other weapons are just running out of control,” Griset said this week. “This will just offer a chance to lower some of the risk.”

Griset suggested that the program could be paid for with funds seized from convicted criminals. Beyond that, however, his plan is short on specifics.

But Griset said he asked city staff and police officials last week to begin developing a program that would offer money for guns and then “destroy firearms that constitute a danger to those in our community, especially those on our (school) campuses.”

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And while gun dealers reacted skeptically Tuesday, police officials are taking him seriously.

“Generally,” Police Chief Paul M. Walters said, “anything that gets guns off the streets would be plus for the community.”

Griset’s proposal comes on the heels of several tragic incidents that brought together a mixture of guns and teen-agers:

- Last week, a judge in Santa Ana sentenced Richard H. Bourassa Jr. to 18 years to life in the shooting death of his friend Christian Wiedepuhl, 17. Four years earlier, Bourassa fatally shot another playmate in the same room of his Anaheim Hills house in a case that was ruled accidental.

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- Two weeks ago, another Santa Ana judge sentenced 19-year-old Paul Michael Crowder to 19 years to life in the shooting death of Crescenta Valley basketball star Berlyn Cosman, 17.

- And last month, a pair of drive-by shootings in the streets bordering Santa Ana High School prompted police to set up traffic barriers, add a security guard to the campus and beef up neighborhood patrols.

“I think any time there is an incident of injury or death due to gunfire, there are simply too many guns in the hands of people who should not have guns,” Griset said.

Gun retailers like Stephen Young, owner of Southern California Jewelry and Loan in Garden Grove, doubted that Griset’s plan would work. Young said there’s a chance “that you might get some benefit out of it, but it’s so minuscule.”

“The criminals won’t turn in their guns because it’s their livelihood,” Young said. “If they know it has been used in a crime, they’ll throw it off the pier and dispose of it that way. Those people won’t turn them in anyway because they’re afraid.”

Griset said the city’s bounty program would allow anyone to trade guns for cash, although it would be aimed at students.

Police Chief Walters said it was “too early to say whether we would do it, or what the scope would be.” Walters said his department should be able determine if the proposal is feasible within 30 days.

Walters said some of the questions that need to be explored include how much the city would pay for the guns and whether they would be taken with no questions asked. Also, city and police officials need to find out if cities with similar programs have seen any reduction in the number of violent crimes, he said.

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Walters said the important thing is “making sure that it’s effective. That it’s improving the quality of life in the community and not just a way for people to turn in guns that they don’t want and collect a bounty.”

Rudy M. Castruita, superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, declined to comment on the proposal Tuesday, but added that “my initial reaction is (to support) anything that will assist in getting any weapons off the streets and behind locked doors.”

However, Castruita and other school officials disputed Griset’s claim that Santa Ana’s schools have seen a “staggering” increase in guns on campus.

District spokeswoman Diane Thomas said that considering that Santa Ana is the largest school district in the county, “statistics for campus crime (show) we do very well” at keeping schools safe. Having any kind of weapon on campus is grounds for expulsion, she said, and last year the district expelled 11 students for possession of firearms. This district’s total enrollment numbers about 46,000 students.

Councilman John Acosta said he would support the program “if it would keep the guns out of the reach of those young folks. I would just like to see those guns that are sitting around and gathering dust out of the reach of kids who think that they are part of the group because they have a gun. There’s nothing more dangerous than a kid with a gun in his pocket. Most are not responsible enough to keep from using it.”

Griset said that if his program is implemented, the city could “achieve some level of disarmament in the community” by offering a message “that guns are not a part of our community life and that, in fact, we’ll make it worthwhile for kids to turn in guns for cash.”

In San Francisco earlier this year, a program that offered cash for firearms with no questions asked collected 1,100 guns at a cost of $28,000. Hundreds of people traded in Saturday night specials, automatic pistols and small-caliber handguns for $50 apiece as part of the city’s “firearms amnesty program.”

Walters said it is not clear whether Santa Ana’s program would include an amnesty component.

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“I think it’s a stupid idea,” said one employee of Stanley’s Gun Room in Santa Ana who would identify himself only as Steve. “How many people do you know would pay $300 or $400 for a gun and then sell it (for much less). You might get some junk that wouldn’t work, but the city can’t afford to pay what guns are worth.”


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