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Posted Jan 8, 2013, 1:17 pm
More than 200 unwanted guns were turned in to be destroyed in exchange for $50 grocery store gift cards Tuesday. The buyback was aimed at honoring the victims of the Jan. 8, 2011, Safeway shootings.
Throughout the morning, a line of gun owners filed through the parking lot of a Midtown police station, as gun enthusiasts demonstrated against the buyback and offered some owners more money for their weapons.
206 guns were collected, said Tucson Police Department spokesman Chris Widmer. Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Kozachik, who organized the event, said he'd handed out more than 200 gift cards, which were paid for by about 20 private donors.
Those turning in guns had a variety of reasons.
"I'd just as soon have it off the street," said Tucsonan Jon Stetson, 68, who came to turn in a Ruger .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun that he didn't use or want anymore.
Stetson isn't against gun ownership, but he would like to see changes. "I just think our gun laws in this country are way, way, way too lax."
Kozachik said he organized the buyback to honor the victims of the Jan. 8 attack killed six and wounded 13 others, including former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and new U.S. Rep. Ron Barber.
The shooting sparked a nationwide debate on gun control, but no real action on national legislation. Also Tuesday, the second anniversary of the shootings, Kelly and Giffords launched a political action committee aimed at seeking a balance between gun rights and regulation of a "dangerous product." With the non-profit Americans for Responsible Solutions, the couple hopes to counter the influence of the gun lobby.
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Saturday's event was not related to Giffords' announcement. Kozachik, a Republican who owns guns, suggested the buyback during discussions with a commission researching memorial options. For him, there are no anti-gun underpinnings.
"It's about giving people a responsible way to dispose of their guns," he said while handing out Safeway gift cards to those turning over guns.
Some "gave touching reasons for turning in their guns," Kozachik said.
"One man told me, 'My brother committed suicide 6 months ago. I want this gun destroyed,'" he said.
Another man told Kozachik that his son had just turned 10, and he wanted to remove the gun he turned in from their home, to avoid the risk of an accidental shooting.
"I'm gratified that, regardless of some people trying to make a stunt of out it, guys trying to turn this into a firearms flea market, that we've had a successful event," he said.
The line to turn in weapons stretched about 30 yards across the parking lot at the corner of 22nd Street and Alvernon Way. Police kept a close watch on the proceedings; the morning started with 31 TPD officers working the event, but another 14 were called in because of the large crowd, Widmer said.
None were on overtime, and the extra personnel were drawn from non-patrol duties, he said. "Public safety was not compromised" by the number of officers working the event, Widmer said.
As gun owners arrived, Tucson police armorers first checked each weapon for safety, disassembling it if necessary, then rendered each one unusable by running a zip tie through the chamber. Every gun's serial number was checked against a database of guns used in crimes, though none came up. All of the firearms were to be shredded Tuesday afternoon.
One man turned in 18 dilapidated rifles, garnering $900 in gift cards. Most of the firearms turned over were handguns, along with several dozen long guns, including shotguns and rifles.
Scores of gun-rights advocates came to the buyback to offer cash for the guns – more cash than the $50 Safeway cards are worth – and head off the buybacks. Some people were there to make a statement about gun rights, but others were there mainly to make money. Many guns that changed hands for $100 are worth twice that or more.
The private sales – even in the parking lot of a police substation – are completely legal in Arizona without any background check or other paperwork, said Tucson Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Maria Hawke.
"It's basically a legal, private sale," she said. Officers were there only to make sure the sales were safe.
Kitt Moran, a 30-year-old University of Arizona senior, was hoping to flip a firearm for profit, but an hour into the buyback she was still holding only her sign reading "I'll pay double for your gun." She thinks the buyback is off track. It isn't getting guns away from criminals, Moran said.
"Criminals are not going to show up at a police station and just give up their guns," she said.
Kozachik said the private guns transactions were a "vivid picture" that "we have a fundamental hole (in the law) in person-to-person gun sales."
"There are no questions asked, no background check, and it's taking place right here, in front of a cop," he said.
Many of the private gun buyers were reticent to speak to reporters, turning their backs in an attempt to avoid being photographed. Several dozen private gun transactions appeared to take place during the event.
Former state Sen. Frank Antenori, who last year made a failed bid for the U.S. House of Representatives, put out the rallying cry for gun-rights advocates to come.
Antenori advocates gun ownership for protection, saying that anyone breaking into his home would have a "very tough time of it." Antenori hunts coyotes with an AR-15 assault-style weapon, saying the firepower is perfect for predators. He thinks the buyback sends the wrong message.
"The discussion we should be having is how to separate people who are mentally ill from their firearms, not a discussion about how to separate law-abiding citizens from their firearms," Antenori said.
Don Ross, 68, brought a Jennings .22 semi-automatic handgun to turn in. Though he owns no other guns, Ross supports responsible gun ownership. But he doesn't think the buyback will go very far to rid the nation of more than 300 million guns.
"It's a drop-in-the-bucket effort," he said.
TucsonSentinel.com’s Dylan Smith contributed to this report.