A Solano County gun buyback program netted nearly 350 firearms Saturday -- including a military rocket launcher.
"I think it was incredibly successful, when you think of the 300-plus guns that were in circulation that won't fall into the wrong hands. There's a number of guns that I believe were in the wrong hands," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, as he surveyed the day's haul.
Stacks of rifles, shotguns and handguns filled several tables at the Solano County Fairgrounds. Many of the weapons were promptly sawed in half and destroyed by the Vallejo Police Department.
"They can never be used again," Vallejo Police Lt. Jim O'Connell said, noting that the most of the firearms also will eventually be destroyed.
The department will also screen the guns based on their serial numbers and try to return stolen firearms back to their owners. Others will be kept as evidence if they were found to have been used in a crime.
The agencies collected 113 handguns, 67 shotguns, 163 rifles -- including multiple assault rifles -- and the rocket launcher.
The countywide gun buyback program, in which people anonymously drop off their guns in exchange for gift cards, was developed as a partnership among several law enforcement agencies as well as Thompson and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord.
Other agencies that participated or donated money for the gift cars included local businesses, school districts, health agencies and faith-based organizations.
idea is to get guns off the streets and remove their potential to cause violence. Gun violence is a particular concern to Thompson, who has served for the past several months as chairman of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
Because of redistricting, Thompson now represents Vallejo and Benicia as well as American Canyon.
Thompson hosted a Vallejo town hall meeting about the issue in January. The prevention of gun violence has been a major national debate since a series of mass shootings last year, culminating with the December slayings of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook.
Various solutions have been proposed, including having mental health evaluations for all gun buyers and closing the background check loophole at gun shows.
"There are about 20,000 people in California who legally purchased firearms. But subsequent to buying their guns, they've become prohibited from owning guns," Thompson said.
Saturday marked Thompson's first visit at a gun buyback program. He also actively worked the event, helping police officers load the collected weapons into the back of a pickup.
Thompson, a Vietnam War veteran and himself a gun owner, said he believes in the Second Amendment and that people have the right to own a gun.
Part of what made Saturday's event a success is that no one argued against that idea, said Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis, who was on hand for the event.
"I think this kind of event doesn't challenge the ideas of people who believe in the right to own guns," Davis said.
The gun buyback program in particular and gun violence prevention in general are poignant issues for Ray Courtemanche of the Matt Garcia Foundation.
At 22, Garcia was Fairfield's youngest council member until he was shot and killed in 2008. The gun that killed him was bought at a garage sale.
"When we found out the gun that was used to take Matt's life was bought at a garage sale -- we had to do something," said Courtemanche, Garcia's stepfather an organizer of the foundation that bears his name.
The foundation has held two gun buyback programs in Fairfield.
Though nothing has been planned yet, officials said there would be more gun buyback events.
Contact Lanz Christian Bañes at (707) 553-6833 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LanzTimesH.
©2013 Times-Herald (Vallejo, Calif.)
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