Derek Ringley shows a pistol being auctioned at an event organized to compete… (Tom Pennington, Getty Images )
DALLAS — On one side of Young Street, volunteers from First Presbyterian Church of Dallas attempted to persuade gun owners to turn in their firearms. They would receive $50 to $200 — from donors — and know that their guns would be destroyed.
Across the downtown street, members of the Right Group — formed to compete with the church event — set up in a rented vacant lot to urge visitors to resell their firearms rather than destroy them. They had signs reading "We pay more" and "Gun rescue."
The dueling buybacks came on a day when thousands attended peaceful Guns Across America rallies at state capitals nationwide to oppose tighter gun laws. Separately, a Republican consulting firm had promoted Saturday as Gun Appreciation Day, three days after President Obama laid out a slew of proposals designed to restrict gun access in the wake of last month's Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
Among the hundreds who gathered in Sacramento in front of the Capitol was Christina Marotti, 33, of East Sacramento, who brought her daughters, ages 2 and 4. One had a sign saying, "My mom [hearts] guns." The other's said, "Arm my teacher."
"Wherever you take away the right to have guns, the crime rate increases," Marotti said. "As a mother, that scares me."
Some customers at the bustling Los Angeles Gun Club, a popular downtown shooting range, were unaware of the Gun Appreciation Day campaign.
"Yay for the 2nd Amendment, especially in the times we're in now," said Jonathan Wright, who was celebrating his upcoming 24th birthday with a group of friends.
Alex Katz, 25, who said he visited ranges a couple of times a month and described himself as pro-gun control, found the "appreciation day" concept "a little tasteless right now."
In Dallas, the church made the first buyback purchase: $50 for an old pistol from a pair of local women.
Scott Mankoff, 43, of Dallas waded through the rival group's crowd of about 100 — then headed to the church.
Mankoff, a retired artist, opposes new gun laws but came to turn in a spare .22 rifle to be destroyed because of the Newtown shootings.
"It's not about the money — it's about getting it off the street," he said.
For others, it was more about the money.
They showed up to sell .22 rifles, .40- and .45-caliber handguns, a Ruger M-77 rifle, a Chinese SKS rifle, some for $400. One 19-year-old showed up trying to sell his customized AR-15, worth about $1,000, knowing gun prices spiked after the Newtown shootings.
James Brown, 41, of Dallas initially went to the church buyback but got tired of waiting in the long line with his 13-year-old son.
When they crossed the street, they were applauded and led to the back of a pickup truck, where Brown's Rossi Ranch Hand .45 was auctioned for $300 and his .25 handgun for $200.
"I prefer to keep it in the family. If it's a good gun, and people can use it, why not sell it?" he said.
Brown said he didn't blame guns for the tragedy at Newtown.
"A gun can be your best friend. You get thugs on the street and you can protect your family," he said.
The church, a long-established landmark with a congregation of 1,600 that includes the mayor, has staged buybacks in the past, but it had never faced a counter-buyback. Some organizers were irritated to see people drawn to the other lot. The pastor's wife, Carol Adams, started toting a sign of her own and alerting police when she thought those across the street were becoming too aggressive.
Inside the garage, church volunteer Mike Haney, 65, an attorney, gun owner and hunter who supports new gun control legislation, handled the buys as the pace picked up.
"We have to stop the gun violence, the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut," Haney said, calling it "startling" and "surprising" that "we as a country can't agree that something can be done."
"I don't know that anything we do here today will address that," Haney said as he filled out a receipt for a handgun someone had brought in a Baby Gap bag.
Across the street, organizer Collin Baker said he didn't oppose all new gun laws.
Baker, 30, of Fort Worth, who works at a car dealership and also as a firearms instructor, said he wouldn't oppose expanding federal background checks to close the "gun show loophole." However, Baker also owns an AR-15 automatic-style rifle, whose strength and refinement he likens to a fast sports car, and he opposes a federal assault-rifle ban.
"The people who want to get rid of guns should sell them to responsible gun owners like myself," he said, dismissing the church buyback as "obscene" and "wasteful."
By afternoon, Baker had presided over a slew of sales, holding rifles and handguns aloft during bids, but he was still worried.
"The morning went to us, but I think the afternoon went to them," he said as he watched a line of determined sellers heading into the church garage.
By day's end, Baker's group had seen 40 to 50 guns resold, and it plans to hold similar events in the future. "You guys helped make this a success," he told the crowd.
Across the street, church volunteers had bought enough rifles to fill two large garbage cans. Handguns were stacked on three chairs. In total, they had bought 109 guns, which the Rev. Bruce Buchanan said would be loaded into a truck and ground up at a later date. He hopes the church's success leads other groups to sponsor similar buybacks.
"I think it's the mood of the country," Haney said.
Times staff writers Chris Megerian in Sacramento and Abby Sewell and Andrew Khouri in Los Angeles contributed to this report.