Gun buyback exceeds goal in first day Program fund depleted after more than 1,000 weapons are turned in

'Astonished by turnout'

City to seek aid from private sector to continue purchases

February 02, 1997|By Ginger Thompson and Brenda J. Buote | Ginger Thompson and Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

More than 1,000 handguns were sold to city police yesterday at the kickoff of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's gun buyback program, a surprising collection that forced officials to end the sale early because they ran out of money.

"We were astonished by the turnout," said Schmoke, who accomplished in one day his goal of the city buying 1,000 handguns in a month.

City officials will continue to buy working handguns, no questions asked, on Saturdays this month from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., but the price paid for the weapons will drop from $100 to $50 because the city wants to stretch resources donated from the private sector.

When asked whether the city's buyback would help make neighborhoods safer, Schmoke, who has never been an advocate of gun buyback programs, said he hoped the initiative raised the public's consciousness about violence and perhaps, prevented some deaths.

Yesterday, people carrying guns wrapped in everything from plastic grocery bags to brown paper lunch sacks and old dish towels lined up outside two gun buyback stations set up in East and West Baltimore.

Those stations, in the 1900 block of Pennsylvania Ave. and in the 600 block of N. Caroline St., had been scheduled to operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. But because so many guns were turned in yesterday, the buyback will be held once a week through February.

"Right now, we don't have the funds to keep the program going," Schmoke said. "I will be meeting with businesses this week, seeking support from the private sector."

Two people yesterday turned in a total of 53 handguns, including 9 mm, .38-caliber and .22-caliber weapons. At the West Baltimore location, police ran out of money at 4 p.m. and asked people to return next week. In East Baltimore, the money lasted until 5: 15 p.m. The total number of guns bought or given to the city yesterday was 1,053.

"This is not a panacea. It is not the answer by itself," Schmoke said. "It is part of the answer. What we hope to do is get people thinking that enough is enough."

And as he shook the hands of those in line to sell their guns, that was the message Schmoke heard over and over again.

Rose Daniels, a grandmother from Northwest Baltimore, turned in three guns that were owned by her late husband. She said she had kept the guns hidden in a cookie tin beneath the dresser in her bedroom. But her grandchildren have reached elementary school age, and Daniels said she was worried that they would find the guns.

"No hiding place in the house seemed safe to me," Daniels said. "I feel relieved just having them out of the house."

Marshall Arnett, 23, turned in a .25-caliber automatic. It was a gun he bought for $65 three years ago.

When asked why he had it, Arnett, with shoulders of a linebacker, shrugged and said it made him feel safer on the streets. "It wasn't powerful," he said. "But it was enough to stop somebody if I needed to. Now, I have a family, and I'm in the church. I don't need a gun anymore."

Baltimore police Sgt. Kirk Fleet examined and disarmed guns turned in at the Pennsylvania Avenue site. "We are taking some very dangerous guns off the street," he said, "but any gun brought in is important because any gun can kill you."

The weapons brought in yesterday ranged from 9 mm automatic handguns to hunting rifles, shotguns, BB guns and crossbows. Police took all weapons brought in, but they only paid for working handguns.

The buyback program comes weeks after a 3-year-old city boy was shot in cross-fire as he waited for his birthday haircut and after two city merchants were slain at work.

While the number of violent crimes in Baltimore dropped last year, the number of homicides rose. In 1996, 331 people were killed, compared with 325 in 1995.

In addition to the gun buyback, Schmoke has announced several other efforts to stop violence in the city.

Among those is a plan to levy a fee on bail bonds written in the city to raise money for computers for the state's attorney's office and the Police Department.

Schmoke has also begun a "Gun Bounty Program," in which people will receive $100 for reporting the whereabouts of an illegally owned gun or one that has been used in a homicide.

Those wishing to report an illegal gun may call 911. The $100 reward would be collected once an arrest is made.

Pub Date: 2/02/97

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