15 firearms turned in to authorities

June 06, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

They came in station wagons, sedans and family vans, unloading shopping bags full of ammunition, rusted handguns and old rifles.

Howard County's first formal gun turn-in program Saturday drew at least 20 people who turned in 15 firearms and about 300 rounds of ammunition.

"I think this is a step in making homes safer," said police Chief James Robey. "Assuming there's more of this stuff out there in people's closets, a lot more should be turned in."

Most of the participants had little knowledge about firearms. But all said they were convinced of the dangers of guns. Participants said one less weapon on the streets and out of a home will help give them some piece of mind.

"I'm relieved to have them out of the house," said Martha Garrison of Columbia, who turned in two 12-gauge shotguns from her garage. "I don't know much about guns," Ms. Garrison said. "I just know they're long and my brother-in-law used them to shoot ducks in Delaware."

Saturday's program, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia, operated much like a drive-through depository. Drivers pulled their vehicles into a large open parking lot, between sets of orange cones and up to a police officer. They opened their trunks or rear doors so officers could handle the guns. No questions were asked.

Some walked up and handed officers guns wrapped in paper bags.

"This is really great," said County Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat, as she watched and greeted visitors.

An officer or a sheriff's deputy made sure weapons were unloaded and placed them in the rear of a police prisoner truck. The weapons are to be held in the property room at police headquarters in Ellicott City for 60 days, while police check serial numbers to make sure they have not been stolen. All firearms will be melted down at Bethlehem Steel Corp. in Sparrows Point. The ammunition will be turned over to the state fire marshal's office for disposal, said Sgt. Tyde Mowers.

"Guns are fun and can be great toys, but they're dangerous," said one middle-aged Columbia man as he turned in a pellet gun and ammunition his father gave him when he got out of the Army in the early 1970s. "I don't want my kids to get hurt."

Annette Sisk of Columbia said Saturday's program was a convenient way to part with ammunition her parents had given her.

"It was bothering me it was in the house," Ms. Sisk said. "And you don't just want to throw it in the trash."

About 200,000 guns are stolen from homes across the country each year, according to Diana Huggins, of Enough is Enough, a nonprofit Maryland group that helps counties organize the programs. By directing turn-in programs at ordinary citizens instead of criminals, they can convince more people to part with their weapons for the sake of public safety, Ms. Huggins said.

By the end of the four-hour period Saturday, the arsenal included pellet guns, a small, cheap handgun, a .45-caliber handgun manufactured in 1913, a .22-gauge rifle with a .410-gauge barrel, a small rusted brown gun from Budapest, probably made in the 1930s, a jar of mixed bullets, and other ammunition.

Coupons for 15 percent discounts on home security services were given for each gun or set of ammunition turned in. Chief Robey said Howard County police always has had an open and informal gun turn-in policy. Last year, police collected 120 guns from random turn-ins and weapons collected at crime scenes. Most crimes involving handguns in the county are convenience store robberies or street robberies.

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