Many of the drivers said they were turning in seldom used guns their relatives had passed down to them.
“My sister-in-law, she left the country and left it here with me and I want to get rid of it,” Tan Nguyen said as he waited in a long line of cars. “She bought it a long time ago, in the 80s, for home defense.”
Drivers negotiated with the police officers inspecting the guns to determine how much they'd be worth in grocery gift cards.
“Twenty-five dollars for a pistol, over here,” one officer shouted.
A handgun could get up $100 depending on its make, model and condition. Officials said they would not distribute many gift cards for broken guns. Still, they expressed relief to have them off the street because even disabled weapons could be used to threaten people in a robbery or a similar situation.
By the noon hour, officers had handed out about half the donated gift cards. L.A. city officials were making calls to see whether corporate partners could donate more money. The police chief and the mayor said they’d probably have to turn some people away. But hope some would consider turning over the guns without any compensation.
The city of L.A. moved up its gun buy-back program originally scheduled for May in response to the Connecticut elementary school shootings that killed 26 students and teachers.
“We made it happen because this is a really important statement about what L.A. believes in,” said LAPD police chief Charlie Beck.
People have relinquished about 8,000 guns since Los Angeles began its gun buy-back program in 2009. Beck said gun violence in the city has dropped by 33 percent since 2009.
“One thing that’s true about every one of these guns we collect is that they are unwanted guns,” Beck said. “They are the kind of guns that can fall into the hands of untrained people - not their owners - and used for deadly purpose.”
One man turned in a .22 semi-automatic rifle and a German-made rifle from World War II. Someone had given them to his nephew when he turned 18 years old, but he sold them to a drug dealer to pay off an old debt.
“I went down and paid the $200 to get them back and now I’m going to turn them,” said Robert Santos. “They don’t need to be on the street.”
Santos, an ex-Marine, said he does own high-powered weapons he chose not to turn in Wednesday because he uses them for sport. In the military he was a primary marksmanship instructor who taught others to use firearms.
“They’re not dangerous in the right hands of the right person,” he said.