COMPTON, Calif. – "Big Daddy" Willis came to Compton to turn an illegal homemade pistol into Christmas dinner. Charlene Watt planned to turn three shotguns into a plasma TV.
The two were among dozens of gun-toting residents who converged on a shopping center parking lot Saturday to anonymously swap firearms for gift certificates as part of a program aimed at reducing violence in this crime-plagued city.
Each was rewarded with a $100 gift card for Circuit City or the Ralphs supermarket chain, the program's co-sponsors.
In a line that snaked across a parking lot, participants from across Los Angeles County carried guns in cardboard boxes, plastic grocery bags and fancy leather cases.
"Hopefully and prayerfully this will cut down on the shootings," said Compton resident Ruther Daniels, 44, who turned in a .22-caliber handgun.
Authorities created the program after a sharp spike in Compton's crime rate this year. Sixty-eight homicides have been recorded so far in 2005, up from 39 in 2004, according to sheriff's Capt. Eric Hamilton.
Over three consecutive Saturdays, sheriff's deputies amassed more than 250 firearms, including 185 handguns, 48 high-powered rifles, 15 sawed-off shotguns and a Tec-9 semiautomatic machine gun pistol.
"The only reason you'd have these guns is to shoot at people," said sheriff's Deputy A.J. Rotella, who came up with the Gifts for Guns concept.
All will undergo ballistics checks to determine if they were used in crimes before being melted down at the sheriff's annual "gun dump."
Authorities said the gun exchange might become an annual program. It was funded by the city of Compton, Circuit City, Ralphs and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department through its sale of assets seized in drug cases.