City police show off buyback's 1,100 guns Companies, individuals call to offer donations for continuing program

February 04, 1997|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer JoAnna Daemmrich contributed to this article.

From a tiny "zip-gun" no bigger then a pen to a sawed-off shotgun that could only be used to "spray down a room," city officials yesterday proudly showed off the weekend haul from their highly touted gun buyback program.

Standing in the middle of the evidence room in the basement of police headquarters, the mayor and police chief dug into six piles of weapons to demonstrate the firepower on city streets.

More than 1,100 guns were turned in over eight hours -- more than a fourth of the number of guns city police seized all of last year. Astonished city officials halted the buyback early Saturday after paying $100,000 -- an amount that was supposed to last all month.

"It was a wake-up call," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "I was really amazed that we were able to take in that large a number of guns in such a short period of time. It was shocking. It just lets us know the level of supply out there."

The confiscated guns have to be sorted to see if any were stolen, and ultimately most will be melted down.

Police said it is impractical to test every weapon to determine if it was used in a crime, though that would be done in select cases.

While an exact breakdown of the types of guns has yet to be completed, Schmoke said he would have liked to see more large-caliber weapons turned in.

However, he generally was pleased.

"By and large, we got the type of guns that we wanted," the mayor said. "Obviously, there were a lot of law-abiding citizens who came in and gave us guns they didn't want around the house. But then we did have a lot of other people and while we didn't ask any questions, we made some assumptions that they were carrying them around on the streets."

Several companies and individuals called the mayor's office yesterday and offered to donate money for the program.

David Calhoun, an art teacher whose pregnant wife was robbed at gunpoint, has promised to contribute $20,000 from his savings. The mayor said he does not want to use more city funds, but hopes to collect $30,000 to $40,000 in private donations by Saturday, when the buyback resumes.

As they picked through the booty, officials were startled by the level of firepower.

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier was particularly concerned with the sawed-off shotguns that had been turned in. He held one of them and said: "It's used for one purpose. It's spraying down a room. It's for killing people close up."

Schmoke picked up a long-barreled gun and showed how criminals hide them under their clothes.

He showed how one gun could be taken apart quickly to easily conceal it. Holding up a large-caliber handgun, he said: "This is the type of thing you see in 'Dirty Harry' movies -- and to think this was out on our streets."

For Schmoke, getting guns off the streets has become something of a personal crusade. In the past four weeks, he has used public forums -- from news conferences to community events -- to speak out forcefully against the grip of violent crime.

He has promised to spend more money on drug treatment and urged the city prosecutor to take a hard line against negotiating away gun charges in violent crimes. On Saturday, the mayor made a personal appeal to a self-confessed drug addict to give up his gun.

While Schmoke was thanking the people who had lined up to trade in their guns for $100 each, a 27-year-old man asked him for help getting into a drug treatment program. Schmoke said he would do his best -- if the man would give up his gun.

"He told me he was more afraid of the crack heads on the street than the police," the mayor said yesterday. "But he said he would think about it."

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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