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City takes in guns, gives gift cards

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Turn in a gun and get a $10, $50 or $100 gift card, no questions asked. The city of Chicago sponsored another "gun buy back" event Saturday.

Officials see the effort as a way to get guns off the streets. However, at least one Chicago area activist thinks gang members use the program to take advantage of the city's generosity.

Residents had until 4p.m. Saturday to turn in their guns at any one of 27 participating churches across the city. Police had been optimistic that they would at least match last year's take of 6,000 guns. However, ABC7 Chicago learned Saturday evening that 1,883 guns were collected.

"Which one killed my son. That is what I think about. It's scary. The table is scary," said Dominique Mayo while looking at a table of turned-in guns at a participating location Saturday.

It was indeed scary to look at some of the thousands of weapons turned in, but Chicago police Supt. Jody Weis said that was the point: to get the guns off of the street and out of people's homes.

"I'd really encourage parents and grandparents to check your house. People think everybody is buying these guns off the street, but a lot of these weapons are stolen out of the house," Weis said.

In a sign of the times, this year, the city offered residents half of what they usually do to turn in their guns. Participants received one hundred dollar gift cards for assault type weapons and fifty for handguns and rifles. Still, there were long lines at some participating churches Saturday morning where people got turn in their guns with no questions asked.

"I didn't know what to do. Put it in the garbage for someone else to find it, a kid to find it?" said one person who asked to remain anonymous. "But I knew I had to get rid of it."

However, not everyone is a fan of the program. Mark Allen is an associate editor with the South Street Journal. He says the program allows criminals to turn in old weapons and then trade the gift cards to get cash for new ones, and that is just to start.

"I hear people admit they know people who have literally gotten away with crimes because they were able to turn in guns with no questions asked," Allen said.

But Weis says that is not true. He says recovered weapons are checked against open cases before being destroyed, and if one turns up positive, investigators have other ways to build a case without having to go after the person who turned in the gun.

Since 2005 the gun turn-in program has taken 18,000 guns off the streets. Officials say the reason they had to offer half of the amount they usually offer for guns and rifles is because they rely on donations to fund the program, and this year, donations were way down. That may help explain why so few guns were turned in this year compared to last year.

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