Weapons buyback reaps 265 guns City attorney pays $50 apiece to reduce arms in community

December 14, 1997|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

The big man strolled into the North Avenue nightclub, pulled a sawed-off shotgun from his coat and placed it on a table. Then he walked over to Warren A. Brown, who stood like a pastor greeting parishioners after a sermon.

"How you doing," Brown said warmly, peeling a crisp $50 bill from a stack in his left hand. "Merry Christmas."

The grateful man headed for the door, leaving his gun behind as he departed into the sunlight of a frosty Saturday morning. Then the next man in line marched forward, also carrying a sawed-off shotgun. Brown pulled another $50 from the pile.

Since 1994 this has been an annual holiday event in Baltimore, this gun buyback of Brown's, as traditional in its way as crowded malls and the bright lights of Hampden.

One year you stand in line for a Tickle Me Elmo doll. The next year you line up, gun in hand, for one of those $50s from Brown, no questions asked, until noon arrives or he's spent all of the $15,000 allotted for the day. All from a defense attorney who the rest of the year is more interested in getting clients off the hook than guns off the street.

"Generally, this time of year, practitioners like myself will give ourselves bonuses, and this is what I do with my bonus," Brown said.

In the vastness of a city's arsenal, Brown knows that his annual outtake of up to 300 weapons is small. This year, people turned in 265 guns before the doors closed.

He also knows that criminals are hardly likely to embrace unilateral disarmament for a mere $50 and a handshake. Any participating lawbreaker has probably already rearmed with far more effective weaponry.

Jan Deveny, chairman of the firearms committee of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said of these events, mildly popular throughout urban America, "What we have seen and heard is that a lot of people are bringing in guns they might not want anyway, and that some of them you might not even be able to fire."

City officials got so worried about being taken advantage of in this fashion that they canceled a highly publicized gun buyback program in February, after getting a tip that a local gun shop was planning to unload unwanted inventory.

On the other hand, Deveny said, "It's also true that they're often getting guns at these things that are worth more than what they're paying."

It's hard to argue against yesterday's early results, when three of the first six people in line handed over sawed-off shotguns -- blunt, ugly, shock weapons good for little but crime and concealment.

"These things are ominous, and there's no reason for their existence," Brown said. "I get a greater thrill taking a sawed-off shotgun off the street than a handgun."

Some people who show up have simply decided they're tired of having a gun -- any gun -- around the house. The possibility of misuse outweighs the weapon's protection value.

But participants at a gun buyback can't always be counted on to state their real reason for turning a gun in. An uncanny number yesterday claimed that the guns hadn't ever belonged to them.

"This was my late father-in-law's," said one man.

"Belonged to a widow friend," said the next guy.

"Brought this for a friend," said the next.

But that's OK, too. The no-questions policy insures a better turnout, police say, so that even a grandmotherly woman can meekly turn in a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and leave without a word, as was the case yesterday. As with all the other guns, police duly logged the contribution and took the weapon into custody.

"I appreciate it," Brown said once again, as yet another person stepped forward, handing over two .44-caliber revolvers, as if Wyatt Earp had just emptied both holsters.

The man pocketed $100, intending to spend the afternoon Christmas shopping.

"Happy holidays, sir," Brown said. "You take care."

Pub Date: 12/14/97

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