7-Eleven turn-in program snares 138 guns

July 12, 1994|By Michael James and Joel Obermayer | Michael James and Joel Obermayer,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Elaine Tassy and Peter Hermann contributed to this article.

They gave away their guns and rifles yesterday for Slurpees, Big Gulps, cookies and ice cream.

The idea to give away $107.11 in coupons for each gun received made 7-Eleven's "Guns for Goods" swap Baltimore's most successful gun turn-in program in recent years, as 138 firearms -- 88 pistols and 50 rifles and shotguns -- were turned in at three of the convenience stores.

"I just got a 'Big Gulp,'" said 25-year-old Ronald Norton, a warehouse worker who turned in his .22-caliber Viper handgun and a year's supply of ammunition at a 7-Eleven at 2701 W. Franklin St. "For a gun, I got some fruit punch."

Mr. Norton, who lives in Baltimore, said he has two children and was worried that they might get their hands on the gun. So he went to 7-Eleven and got a 44-ounce drink and coupons that will keep him in sodas, doughnuts and other snacks for weeks.

The coupons -- $107.11 worth for working guns and $50 worth for weapons that didn't fire -- can be redeemed at 7-Eleven stores for all merchandise except alcoholic beverages, cigarettes, gasoline and lottery tickets.

It was a direct hit of an idea, as people came forward to turn in such weapons as a 12-gauge pump shotgun, a .22-caliber semiautomatic Beretta and a .38-caliber snub-nose revolver.

"The kinds of guns we're getting are the kinds we want to get," Baltimore Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said as he visited the West Franklin Street store.

Guns also were collected in the parking lots of stores at 4900 Liberty Heights Ave. and 729 E. 25th St.

Mark T. Nivins, a spokesman for 7-Eleven's northeast division, estimated that coupons worth a total of about $14,000 were paid out to gun-toting customers.

"The No. 1 reason [this was so successful] is that 7-Eleven sells and everyone knows about it," Mr. Nivins said. "A great enticement helps; $107 is not peanuts. Anything you do in life you do for an incentive, and that's what this is. And if it helps even a little it is worth it."

No questions were asked of the gun exchangers, although police said they will run the weapons through ballistics to determine if any have been used in crimes. If they are not linked to crimes, they will be destroyed, police officials said.

Roy Dickens, a 35-year-old truck driver from Baltimore, turned in a pump shotgun and used some of his coupons for a 44-ounce fruit punch Big Gulp.

"I had to get [the shotgun] out of the house, because I don't want it there when my kid is over," Mr. Dickens said as he sipped the large soft drink.

Then there was Richard Merling, 50, who decided he'd turn in his antique pistol so that he could get refreshments for gubernatorial candidate American Joe Miedusiewski's campaign workers.

"They work for nothing, so I thought it would be nice to give them coffee and doughnuts," said Mr. Merling, who is retired and lives in Baltimore.

Tee McIver, a clerk at the store on East 25th Street, said most people were turning in their coupons for cookies, Slurpees and sodas.

For whatever the reason, more people turned in more guns yesterday than at any previous gun turn-in in recent Baltimore history. A citywide "Turn in Your Gun" effort in January produced a disappointing 11 weapons.

That drive, organized by about 20 churches, didn't offer anything in return for the weapons, appealing instead to people's consciences in ridding the streets of guns.

Other similarly profitless turn-ins in 1993 -- all organized by clergy members -- netted 37, 16, and nine guns, respectively. A gun program that offered $25 per weapon brought in 27 guns in June 1993 at St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church, at 1542 N. Gilmor St. in West Baltimore.

Baltimore's most successful gun turn-in program was in 1974, when Police Commissioner Donald D. Pomerleau offered $50 per weapon in "Operation PASS" (People Against Senseless Shooting). The result was more than 11,600 weapons turned in over a one-month period, which sent city administrators scrambling to find the $581,000 in cash reserves.

"It's tough to convince people that it's worth their while to be giving up their firearms," said Neil Saunders, an organizer of a few of the recent turn-ins for the Stony Run Friends Meeting church group. "The element of fear is so high out there today. In 1973, more people were willing to part with their guns. It's not that way anymore."

Mr. Saunders said he supported the 7-Eleven turn-in and any others that accomplished the objective of getting guns off the street. But he said it was too bad that a profit-incentive has to be used.

"You're putting a monetary value on things. What we're talking about here is saving human lives," Mr. Saunders said. "When you give someone something for the gun, they're not giving it up because it's the right thing to do. They're giving it up so they can get $107. That's a sad commentary on society."

Vincent DeMarco, the executive director for Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, said he looks at the gun turn-ins as being more symbolic.

"All turn-ins are successful in raising the consciousness of gun awareness," Mr. DeMarco said. "But in order for there to be an impact on the amount of guns on the street, gun turn-ins have to be paired with gun control legislation. The turn-ins alone can't get the job done."

Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse doesn't keep records on the number of guns taken in turn-ins. He recalled that one of the most successful programs was in Montgomery County, with roughly 200 guns received.

"The only thing we prefer is that they not offer cash, for the simple reason that if you give someone cash for a gun, they can just go right back out and purchase more handguns," Mr. DeMarco said.

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