Program takes guns off street

LA CRESCENTA — The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department collected 71 firearms and distributed $7,400 in supermarket gift cards Saturday at the Crescenta Valley Station as part of a countywide program that aims to get guns out of homes and off the streets.

Dozens of residents participated in the anonymous, drive-through exchange that saw gun owners surrender firearms in return for $50 and $100 certificates to Ralphs supermarkets. Those relinquishing assault weapons received $200 gift cards.

Sheriffs gathered 34 handguns, 23 rifles, nine shotguns and five assault weapons, said Lt. Greg Sisneros.

The station provides law enforcement services to cities surrounding Burbank and Glendale, including La Cañada Flintridge, unincorporated communities of La Crescenta, Montrose, Lake View Terrace, and much of the Angeles National Forest.

“Coming in, not knowing how it would go, the day was definitely a success,” Sisneros said. “Considering the area, we took in about 15 fewer guns than Altadena and two additional assault weapons.”

The event capped the fifth weekend of a two-month expansion of the county’s Gifts for Guns program, which began four years ago in Compton. Last year, the Sheriff’s Department collected and destroyed more than 3,000 guns.

“It’s no-strings-attached,” Sisneros said. “We don’t ask who the guns are registered to or how they got the guns.”

Motorists made their way through two checkpoints before reaching the drop-off site, where sheriffs collected guns from trunks and truck beds. Authorities then determined whether the weapons were loaded, operational and genuine.

“Now that’s a well-made firearm,” said Sgt. Mike Brandriff, admiring a Heckler and Koch P7M8. “That gun, the quality German engineering, would go for about $1,000.”

A man who said he had given up weekly target practice turned in two riffles, an older woman dropped off an AR-15, two widows brought with them guns that belonged to their husbands, and a father of two infants offered the motive that his “partying days are over” when surrendering two pistols. The first group of motorists, however, would not surrender their names to be printed.

By the time Mary Cummings and friend Maria Salerno arrived with a brown bag of “collectibles,” the line of cars stretched beyond the parking lot. Sheriffs recovered the bag from her trunk and quickly tagged the guns inside, passing them to law enforcement technician Richard Engersbach.

After a few seconds of inspection, sheriffs determined that two of the guns had been disabled and could not be repaired.

“The person who these belonged to said they could get some money,” Cummings said. “They have been in the same wooden box since 1996.”

Another of the handguns Cummings brought netted her a $50 gift card.

“It’s wonderful to get the guns into safe hands,” Salerno said.

As Gifts for Guns continues its tour across Los Angeles County, similar incentive-based exchanges in San Francisco, Miami and New York continue to receive mixed reviews. While acknowledging that gun buybacks help remove some firearms from homes, critics charge the programs with being little more than feel-good affairs rife with dealers looking to unload junk firearms for whatever they can get.

Farideh Kioumehr- Dadsetan, of the International Health and Epidemiology Research Center, said she applauds the efforts of law enforcement agencies when it comes to recovering guns. However, the epidemiologist questions their effectiveness.

“The effort is commendable, and they want to deliver the right message,” said Kioumehr-Dadsetan, founder of the Anti-Violence Campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the hazards of guns, toy guns and violence. “But I am afraid nothing they are doing will work without education.”

Kioumehr-Dadsetan suggests that law enforcement agencies team up with universities and nonprofits such as hers to form lecture circuits and informational programs for those turning in weapons.

The event this weekend was the first firearm exchange of its kind in La Crescenta, Sisneros said.

After a quiet stretch, a man with shielded license plates and black glasses popped his trunk to reveal a MAC-11, Uzi and AK-47.

“We got some better quality than Altadena did last week,” Engersbach said, inspecting the guns.

Sheriffs ran background checks on each firearm. Of the 71 guns recovered in La Crescenta, one had been stolen from its registered owner, Sisneros said.

For future locations of gun exchanges, call the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau at (323) 526-5541 or visit www. LASD.org.


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