SAN FRANCISCO – A man carrying a semiautomatic handgun approached a group of San Francisco police officers Saturday afternoon and, with a smile, handed over the pistol in exchange for $150 in gift cards.
"I used to fire it at bottles or do some plinking in the woods," said the gun's owner, 48-year-old Bruce Bourne. "But I have a 6-year-old daughter now and my wife was uncomfortable with it being in the house."
For a few hours on a sunny yet brisk Saturday, San Francisco police officers accepted 100 guns from about 80 people in the city's second "Gifts for Guns" event. The first event in July brought in 117 handguns and 2 shotguns.
The idea is to make the streets seem a little safer when the city's murder rate has risen in recent years — San Francisco has had at least 89 homicides so far this year.
Among the 100 guns collected Saturday were 4 assault rifles and two sawed-off shotguns, said Mikail Ali, director of the mayor's office of criminal justice.
As Ali discussed the city's efforts to curb violence another man walked up with a large, black gun case. He took out a black assault rifle with a folding stock and pistol grip and turned it in.
"Twenty years ago you could buy a gun like that legally in California. Some were registered properly, some weren't," Ali said.
California law makes owning an assault weapon illegal, but Gifts for Guns allows people to turn in their firearms without showing identification, and officials promise not to ask any questions about the guns' origins.
Once in police custody the guns are checked with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to see if they were stolen. Ali said 99 percent of the guns recovered are destroyed and, if the guns were stolen, they are returned to their owners if possible.
Participants received $100 gift cards for rifles or shotguns, $150 cards for revolvers or semiautomatic pistols and $200 cards for assault-type weapons like AK-47s.
But not everyone participating in the gun program Saturday believed it was helpful.
Peter Buxtun, a 70-year-old gun advocate, turned in two pistols Saturday that he said were worthless. He collected $300 in gift cards.
"You can buy junk guns for $10 and then use the gift cards to buy new guns," he said. "I saw a half-dozen uniformed SF police officers taken off the street to sit for hours in a City Hall photo-op, instead of patrolling certain drug-ridden and gang-infested neighborhoods."