Gun turn-in offers moral reward only

January 14, 1994|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Unlike the highly successful program in New York, where businesses provided toys and other incentives for gun owners to turn in their weapons, the only inducement in Baltimore's effort tomorrow will be a moral one.

And for some, that may not be enough.

"The people I know who have a gun won't be in no rush to give it up unless they can get something back for it," said Kevin McNeal, 17, of West Baltimore.

"It's their property. They may not want a lot for it, but they want something. They got to go through the effort of getting another one."

In New York and other cities, corporate sponsors have provided incentives for owners to turn in their guns, including toys, athletic shoes and tickets to sporting events.

During a weeklong campaign in New York City last month, 375 guns -- from machine guns to handmade, pen-sized handguns -- were turned in at one police station in exchange for Toys 'R' Us gift certificates that local businessmen had bought. Also in New York last month, Foot Locker Inc., which has 1,400 stores nationwide, began offering athletic shoes for guns.

Other cities have requested similar programs, but Foot Locker spokeswoman Carol Sharkey said, "We're looking to take it further, but we have to evaluate it in New York before we go to Baltimore or any other city."

John C. Springer, director of Baltimore Clergy and Laity Concerned, which, along with several city and state agencies, is sponsoring tomorrow's turn-in, said organizers were unable to find local businesses to provide incentives for gun owners.

In Baltimore, where weapons can be turned in from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 20 religious facilities throughout the city, the only incentive will be peace of mind.

Still, local organizers expect the program to be successful. They hope that 1993's record 353 homicides -- guns were used in 75 percent of those killings -- and educational programs on the dangers of guns will be enough incentive for gun owners to participate.

"Incentives or not, many people who have guns should turn them in," Mr. Springer said. "Guns don't ensure security, but put people in danger."

In interviews this week, several youths and young adults who said they have guns or access to them said they have made plans to turn in their weapons.

One youth said his mother is making him surrender his gun. Another said his brother found his small handgun and will accompany him to one of the turn-in locations tomorrow morning.

But many, especially those in areas where violence is prevalent, question the program's effectiveness.

Clarence Edmunds, 24, of the Middle East community of East tTC Baltimore, said the turn-in program is a good attempt to reduce murders and street crime. But he said criminals won't surrender their weapons.

"They won't even consider it," said Mr. Edmunds, who hears gunshots almost nightly outside his North Collington Avenue home. "They see no need to go out of their way for nothing. You've got to sweeten the pot for a lot of people, or at least put something in it."

Another man said he might travel to Washington, D.C., tomorrow, to get $100 for his weapon and a chance to meet Riddick Bowe, a former heavyweight boxing champion.

"That's what most of the dopies going to do," said Warren Ames, 22, of the Rosemont neighborhood in West Baltimore. "You go there and you know you're going to get something in your hand for a piece. It's definite money. It's better than giving it up for nothing."

Don Rojas, national communications director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said incentive programs have been successful nationally and that he hopes Baltimore businesses will become involved in future programs.

"I hope [tomorrow's program] will be successful, but we want to implore the Baltimore City, Baltimore County corporate community to offer their products in exchange for guns," he said.

Two turn-in programs in Baltimore last year collected a total of about 60 weapons, said Maj. Bernard Harper of the police community relations division. Tomorrow's program offers many more locations for surrendering guns than last year's did.

Mr. Springer said he hopes 10 weapons will be turned in at each location.

"But the goals are much bigger than the number of weapons we collect," he said. "It's also the education program in the schools that we've done."

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