L.A. Now

Sheriff's gun buyback collects 386 weapons in Compton

As cars snaked through a series of orange cones in a Compton parking lot, five shopping carts slowly filled with rifles and assault weapons. Nearby, plastic produce crates overflowed with handguns, spare gun parts and ammunition magazines.

The weapons and accessories came from a gun buyback program held Monday by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the agency's first such effort since 2009. Deputies sweated under unseasonably warm temperatures as they lifted weapons out of car trunks and truck beds and chalked the weapons' value on each windshield. Volunteers emptied magazines and threaded zip ties through barrels.

More than an hour before the buyback was scheduled to start, 15 cars waited. By 5 p.m., deputies had collected 386 weapons, including 193 rifles, 144 handguns and 22 assault rifles. Those who turned in the weapons left with $50 in gift cards in exchange for gun parts and non-working guns; $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles; and up to $200 for assault weapons.

"You just never know what you're going to get," Det. Fernando Gonzales said, lifting a shotgun out of a car trunk and examining a sawed-off barrel. "No good has ever come from this one."

The buyback was the second in as many months in L.A. County. In late December, the Los Angeles Police Department collected 2,037 firearms at a similar buyback, including 75 assault weapons and two rocket launchers. Both buybacks follow increased concern about gun safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 27 dead, including the gunman.

The Sheriff Department's buyback program began in 2005 and continued annually until 2009, when it was put on hold during a round of budget cuts. This year's program was planned in less than two weeks, and netted fewer weapons than in the past. The biggest year on record was 2008, when deputies collected 1,267 firearms during a two-day weekend event.

Although 27 of the 31 homicides in Compton in 2012 involved a firearm, holding the buyback in the city didn't mean the department was specifically calling on its residents to bring in guns, Sheriff Lee Baca said. Indeed, the community — which traditionally has had a reputation for violence and gang activity — has seen its overall violent crime rate fall 15% in the last five years.

John West, 64, traded in a rusted revolver and a Derringer pistol from his gun safe. West said he keeps at least 15 guns at home in Fullerton, including a semiautomatic that he keeps for self-defense. He shoots it regularly to stay in practice.

Some brought BB guns and toy pistols. Others, semiautomatic rifles engraved in Chinese and Russian. A few relatives brought inherited weapons, including a World War II-era Italian pistol, still in its case, and a replica of a black powder Civil War pistol.

"I had no idea what to do with it," said Wilmer Abram, 89, of San Pedro, who arrived with a 2-inch Smith & Wesson pistol that he inherited from his nephew. "I certainly don't want it."

Jose Ramirez dropped off a Russian-made semiautomatic rifle that he bought in the 1990s in exchange for a $200 Ralph's gift card. Since purchasing the rifle, he married and had five children.

"At this point in my life, I'd rather have groceries," Ramirez said, as two of his kids giggled in the back seat. "We don't need that risk."

The Sheriff's Department will destroy the guns in July at its annual weapons meltdown. The steel will be used for rebar, road construction and art installations called "peace angels."

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