Toys for guns, shoes for guns

January 06, 1994

A lot of folks got a chuckle over the spectacle of a pro-gun control President Clinton hunting duck in camo cap and hip boots on Maryland's Eastern Shore. But a couple of stories from Washington and New York illustrate the more serious side of the gun control debate. In New York the week before Christmas, a carpet store owner bought $5,000 worth of $100 gifts certificates from Toys 'R' Us and offered the certificates to anyone who turned in a firearm -- no questions asked.

If you are wondering who would trade in such weapons for $100 worth of Barbie dolls and video games, you may be beginning to get the picture of why firearms are a leading cause of death among young people in New York and other cities.

The response was so great that the $5,000 was quickly exhausted. Local businesses put up additional funds to keep the effort going. By the end of last week the city had collected more than 800 weapons, including dozens of semiautomatic pistols and an Uzi submachine gun.

Yet the proliferation of firearms among kids is a year-round problem. That is why Foot Locker Inc., a New York-based shoe retailer, recently announced it would initiate a shoes-for-guns exchange program. NAACP Executive Director Benjamin Chavis Jr., whom the company consulted on its new project, said he hoped to extend the program to 20 cities, including Baltimore. The NAACP is also trying to get other companies involved. "Giving out toys year-round may not hold the momentum," Chavis said. But kids are always in the market for Reeboks and Nikes.

Foot Locker Inc.'s effort is the latest twist on programs that have been around a decade in which authorities offer amnesty for guns turned in, no questions asked. In the New York City toys-for-guns swap and in the District of Columbia's already established amnesty program, guns are turned in at police stations. A similar effort in Baltimore earlier this year allowed citizens to bring weapons to designated collection centers in churches and civic halls over a three-day period.

No one expects such swaps to solve the problem of firearms-related violence among young people. In Washington, for example, 80 percent of homicides involve some type of firearm. But coupled with aggressive law enforcement, such exchanges could make a dent in the problem. The more guns authorities can get off the streets, the better.

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