The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department took in a record haul of firearms this year through its Gifts for Guns program, an annual event in Compton that allows people to anonymously turn in firearms in exchange for $100 gift cards at Target, Best Buy or Ralphs supermarkets.
Over the last two weekends, deputies collected 965 weapons and distributed more than $95,000 in gift cards, deputies said. That far surpassed last year's total of 387 guns. Deputies speculate that the shrinking economy may be behind the rise in participation.
"I talked to a lot of the people coming through, and most of the people were just interested in getting food and clothing for their families," said Sgt. Byron Woods of the Sheriff's Department. "A lot of them normally wouldn't have turned in their guns, but they really need to put food on the table."
In past years, Target and Best Buy cards were the most coveted, Woods said.
But this year, the supermarket cards were the most popular.
The gift cards were paid for by the city of Compton and by Los Angeles County, which the city pays to provide patrols. The program's starting budget of $55,000 was spent in the first weekend, so the Sheriff's Department gave an additional $45,000, according to Deputy Tim Tellez, who was in charge of this year's event.
The Sheriff's Department launched the program in 2005 after a spate of gun violence in Compton.
Most of the guns collected belonged to people who never used them, deputies say.
"We're not naive enough to think that criminals will come in and give their guns," Tellez said. But he said that because many crimes were committed with firearms stolen in home burglaries, getting guns off the street would help decrease violence.
A few protesters turned up at the event, which was held in a Ralph's parking lot. Tellez said that they may have been gun store owners who thought that people were being coerced into giving up their weapons.
Along with the guns, deputies collected 80 pounds of ammunition and two grenades.
The firearms will be checked to see whether they were used in the commission of crimes and then destroyed. Once a year, the Sheriff's Department melts down all the weapons it has confiscated.