Calif. residents turn in guns for $50, no questions asked

By Rachel Cohen
Inside Bay Area

HAYWARD, Calif. — A firearm laying around at home is one more gun that could be misused, so police gave an extra incentive for people to turn in their guns Saturday.

A $50 bill with President Grant's smiling face was given in exchange for each surrendered firearm. No questions were asked, and no fingerprints taken as cars rolled into the Costco Business Center parking lot on A Street in Hayward from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

"It's important to give the community an opportunity to turn in weapons in a safe manner," said Lt. Bob Weldon. "It's in the best interest of the community not to have any more firearms out in the community than necessary."

All the guns will be checked for any illegal history. Property and Evidence Community Service Officer Craig Pimental runs the serial number, barrel length, make and manufacturer. Once cleared, the guns will be melted and destroyed.

On a few small handguns, common to the street, the serial number had been removed by either burning or metal punching it. If a recovered firearm is reported stolen out of another agency, then police tell that agency who then contacts the owner to see if the gun is still wanted, Pimental said.

Most of the guns turned in Saturday were not stolen and were more likely brought in by a family member who was cleaning out their home and discovered the gun left behind.

"My dad passed away, and my mom didn't feel safe with this gun around," said Kevin Szeto of San Leandro, after dropping off a rifle with a 22-inch barrel.

Szeto, 51, added that his father had kept the rifle for personal protection in his neighborhood.

All the guns brought by were promptly inspected, in case there was still ammunition inside. They were then secured with their moveable parts removed and a plastic zip tie slipped through and tightened.

Weldon said that aside from personnel costs, the event was completely community-funded. He said the department had aimed to collect enough money to buy back 200 guns and this year raised $14,000. Neighborhood Spirit, a nonprofit from south Hayward, gave $4,000.

Sue Mangiameli of Neighborhood Spirit dropped by and said that her group has been focused on growing healthier neighborhoods in the Tennyson area. The group formed about four years ago and Mangiameli said the gun buy-back had initially received less community funding, because she said that her neighbors were contributing to the reward for information in the shooting last month of two 4-year-old girls in Palma Ceia.

The other buy-back sponsors included Hayward Firefighters Local 1909, R. Zaballos and Sons Inc., Swan Communications and Rental Housing Owners Association. The Hayward Police Department's Special Duty Unity, which works with gangs, the Explorers and volunteers from Hayward Downtown Ambassador's association, all assisted with the buy-back Saturday.

The Police Department also gave out gun safety locks for free Saturday, provided by Department of Justice-funded Project Safe.

Cardboard boxes were full of rifles, including perhaps the most unusual of Saturday's booty, an AK-47 with a hinged foot-long bayonet at its tip. There was also a black handgun sporting Chinese characters. A tiny, but deadly loaded handgun that measured 4 by 2 inches, and designed to fit within a belt, was the smallest many officers had ever seen.

A handful of BB guns were turned in, many resembling real handguns.

"This will get you killed, if you point it at somebody at night," Weldon said.

No money was given for the BB guns.

Sixty-three guns had been turned in by midday, while about 184 were collected at the buy-back in 2006 and 142 in 2005. In 2005, the Department of Justice reported that about 68 percent of all murders reported to police were committed with a firearm. The Hayward police are always available to pick up a gun from a house or vehicle.

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