Gun owners waited over an hour in their cars Wednesday to exchange firearms for gift cards as part of a city-sponsored buyback program that set up collection locations in Van Nuys and Exposition Park.
At the Van Nuys Masonic Lodge and the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena's Parking Lot 6, the lines of cars snaked for blocks, moving slowly to get to the drive-thru, drop-off lanes that police had set up.
The locations opened at 9 a.m. and by the time they closed at 4 p.m. about 1,600 weapons had been counted, said Los Angeles Police Department Cmdr. Andy Smith. That number was expected to grow, he said, with the final tally to be announced at a news conference Thursday morning.
Last May, the program netted 1,673 firearms, a four-year low.
Buybacks have been held in May since 2009, but on Dec. 17, Mayor Villaraigosa moved up the event in response to the shootings three days earlier in Newtown, CT, that left 20 children and seven adults dead, along with the gunman.
The shorter planning window for Wednesday's event provided the city with only enough time to set up the two drop-off sites, rather than the usual six.
As part of the buyback program, $100 Ralphs grocery store gift cards were given to people turning in handguns, rifles and shotguns; and $200 gift cards went to those dropping off automatic weapons.
Ralphs and a local nonprofit footed the bill for $130,000 worth of gift cards, Smith said.
The buyback program was originally developed as a way to combat gang-related violence, but the mayor cited additional reasons for giving people a safe option for getting rid of their guns.
"We know the statistics, how that you're more likely to have your gun used accidentally or stolen than you are using it to protect yourself against an intruder," Villaraigosa told reporters during a news conference at the Sports Arena location.
Linda Doran of Northridge, who was waiting in her car at the Van Nuys Masonic Lodge, said she was turning in a Smith & Wesson handgun she bought years ago for self-defense. She said she initially had planned to sell the gun, but felt more at ease in handing it off to police.
"I'm concerned that it may fall into the wrong hands," Doran said.
Just a few feet away from her car, Bruce Boyer protested the buyback and urged those waiting in line to sell their guns instead of exchanging them for the gift cards.
Boyer, who said he has protested at previous buybacks, claimed that most of the surrendered guns are broken and that gun owners are still hanging on to their best firearms.
"They were told it'll cost you 250 bucks to fix a $50 gun," he said.
A 2004 study by the National Academy of Sciences stated that gun buybacks were ineffective because the firearms that were turned in were the least likely to have been used in crimes.
But in his remarks at the Sports Arena Villaraigosa defended the program, saying that more than 8,000 guns have been surrendered since 2009. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck added that gun-related crimes have dropped by one-third in the last three years.