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THE REGION

Spreading cheer and disarmament

Sheriff's Department is giving $100 gift cards to those who surrender guns. Hundreds have gotten into the spirit.

December 24, 2008|Sam Quinones

Rudy Oliver wanted to get rid of a 12-gauge shotgun that he'd once used to hunt rabbit and quail. "It's been standing in my garage for 14 years," he said.

Carol Jacobs' husband, Peter, was giving her an early Christmas present by finally getting rid of a 22-caliber pistol. "I've been pushing him to get rid of it for years," she said.

And one man, who asked not to be identified, turned in a handgun he'd owned for 40 years. "I used to have a grocery store in South-Central," he said, "but I'm glad I'm retired and don't need it any more."

The three were among dozens of gun owners who participated Tuesday in the first of a two-day Gifts for Guns exchange program sponsored by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Lennox station. The drive-through exchange program at Lennox Middle School ran from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Firearms were exchanged with no questions asked for a $100 gift card -- $200 for assault weapons -- to Ralphs supermarket, Food 4 Less or Target stores. By the end of the day, 300 guns and roughly 2,000 rounds of ammunition had been collected, officials said.

For those who would like a holiday gift card, this will "make their Christmas a little brighter," said Sheriff's Lt. Val Rosario.

Throughout the day, gun donors lined up in their cars in the school's parking lot, sometimes spilling out onto the street. Many said they were ridding their lives of guns that they feared could either be stolen or were within dangerous reach of children.

Deputies took the weapons, made sure they were unloaded, fastened plastic safety bands through the triggers, and put them in supermarket carts to be destroyed later.

Money for the gift cards has come from the Sheriff's Department, which is looking for donations to keep the program running.

Still, "I think it's safe to say it'll be an ongoing thing," said Sheriff's Capt. Matt Dendo, Lennox division commander. The department's Century division will probably schedule one soon, he said.

Gifts for Guns started in the Sheriff's Department's Compton division four years ago and remains an annual event. This year, the division expanded the exchange program to four weekend days -- collecting close to 1,000 weapons and two hand grenades, said Sheriff's Lt. Tony Lucia.

Indeed, the event's popularity seems to be spreading.

In San Diego, 246 guns, including 22 assault weapons, were turned in Monday and exchanged for gift cards under a "no questions asked" effort by the San Diego-based United African American Ministerial Action Council and the San Diego Police Department. The exchange program was organized amid community outrage over the recent shooting of two black teenagers after a party.

L.A. Sheriff's Department Gifts for Guns continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lennox Middle School, 11033 Buford Ave. For more information, call (310) 671-7531.

The Compton division held one earlier this month and will hold another Gifts for Guns on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Ralphs parking lot, 280 E. Compton Blvd. For more information, call (310) 605-6579.

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sam.quinones@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this report.

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