A youngster waits in the back seat of a car as Blake Williams of the San Diego… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)
SAN DIEGO — An hour before the fifth annual gun buyback was set to begin Friday, a line of cars already snaked around a large empty lot and out into the street.
There was a monetary incentive -- $50 for a rifle or shotgun, $100 for a handgun or assault weapon. But there was also another motive, represented by the commonly heard phrase "in the wrong hands."
"I don't need this shotgun sitting around and, with the break-ins in our neighborhood, I don't want it ending up in the wrong hands," said Bill Stowers, 59, an unemployed Teamster, who swapped his .12-gauge for a $50 gift card.
In Southern California, as well as elsewhere in the nation, the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last week has given new urgency to existing plans for weapon buyback programs.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced this week that the gun buyback set for May will be held instead on Wednesday. The early scheduling will allow Los Angeles residents to take "concrete action" in response to the shooting, Villaraigosa said.
"Too often we wake up with another headline that reminds us we are too late," Villaraigosa said. "In Los Angeles, we believe we should stand together" to prevent similar incidents, he added.
Friday's buyback in San Diego, sponsored by African American ministers, had already been on the calendar before the Connecticut shooting. But at a news conference before the event, law enforcement officials promised similar exchanges within six months throughout the sprawling county, particularly in the corridor of Highway 78 that stretches from Escondido to Oceanside.
In four years, the San Diego buyback has collected 850 guns. Those that had been stolen are returned to their owners; others are destroyed by the San Diego Police Department.
Among this year's weapons turned in were military-style rifles, at least two fully automatic handguns and numerous handguns small enough to be easily concealed. Friday's collection tally was 364, more than in any previous year.
The buyback, held this year at the Tubman/Chavez Multi-Cultural & Family Center, is organized by the United African American Ministerial Action Council. The first buyback was held in reaction to the 2008 killing of two teenagers walking home from a party.
"It's better for us to gather here for this purpose than to gather here because another of our youngsters has been murdered," said Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis.
For this year's buyback, the Sheriff's Department provided $10,000 for gift cards, the district attorney's office $5,000 and an anonymous donor another $5,000.
"If we save one child's life, or keep one officer from being shot at, this has been worthwhile," said Sheriff Bill Gore.
In Los Angeles, gun owners can turn in their weapons at either the Los Angeles Sports Arena downtown or the Van Nuys Masonic Temple. Ralphs gift cards will be given in exchange, up to $100 worth for handguns, rifles and shotguns, and up to $200 for assault weapons.
Both sites will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, officials said. The Sports Arena is at 3939 S. Figueroa St.; the Van Nuys Masonic Temple is at 14750 Sherman Way. Weapons brought to a buyback site should be unloaded and transported in vehicle trunks.