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Los Angeles police offer gift cards to take guns off streets

Police officers collect guns from people in their cars at a gun buyback held by the Los Angeles Police Department in Los Angeles, California
Police officers collect guns from people in their cars at a gun buyback held by the Los Angeles Police Department in Los Angeles, California

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Police traded gift cards for guns in Los Angeles on Wednesday, in a buyback program Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced as a crime-fighting response to the deadly shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut.

Police officers handed out $200 grocery store gift cards to people who turned in an automatic weapon, and $100 gift cards to those who provided a handgun, rifle or shotgun.

Los Angeles has held an annual gun buyback since 2009, and similar events have been organized in years past in several other cities, including Detroit and Boston. Police in San Diego had a buyback earlier this month.

Some experts say the buybacks have little effect in reducing gun violence, but Villaraigosa touted the buyback program as one step that can be taken in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14 that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adult staff members.

The shooter, Adam Lanza, killed himself and also shot to death his mother at the home he shared with her, police said.

Los Angeles normally has its gun buyback in May, but Villaraigosa announced last week that the city would have this special buyback in response to the Newtown tragedy.

"There are a number of things we can do. This is just one of them," Villaraigosa said on CNN. "We've got to also address the culture of violence that we've got in this country."

At last count, the Los Angeles gun buyback had collected 1,366 firearms, including 477 handguns and 49 assault weapons, said Vicki Curry, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

The buyback ended at 4 p.m. local time, but a final tally of guns collected was not expected to be released before Thursday. In May, the city's annual gun buyback program collected 1,673 firearms at six locations, compared to two locations used for the program on Wednesday, Curry said.

At each of the locations where the buyback was held, a line of cars stretched around the block, Curry said. People dropping off their guns were asked to leave them in the trunks of their cars, where officers retrieved the weapons. Those surrendering their guns were allowed to remain anonymous.

While officials in Los Angeles and elsewhere have said the gun buybacks help keep streets safe, a 2004 report by the National Research Council of the National Academies questioned that conclusion.

Among the report's findings were that guns surrendered in buybacks tend to be old or inherited from previous owners, and not likely to be used in crime. Also, gun owners find it easy to replace their firearms, according to the report, which was titled "Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review."

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis; editing by Todd Eastham)

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