SAN JOSE -- As homicide rates in San Jose maintain their highest levels in 20 years, law enforcement officials in the South Bay are making a push to curb violent crime by getting guns off the streets.

The San Jose Police Department, in conjunction with other city and county officials, is holding a gun buyback on Dec. 14 at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church on 2012 E. San Antonio Ave. Police are offering $100 gift cards in exchange for working handguns, rifles, shotguns and $200 gift cards for working assault weapons.

San Jose police Capt. Brian Ferrante said the buyback is the first in the city since 2001 and falls in line with acting Chief Larry Esquivel's push to reduce gang violence, which often coincides with gun violence.

"Our main goal is to take those weapons off the streets that could potentially end up in the hands of criminals and be used in shootings, robberies and homicides," Ferrante said.

Homicide rates in San Jose have jumped significantly since 2011. Between 2000 and 2010, San Jose averaged 22 homicides per year, with a high of 33 in 2007. Beginning in 2011, homicides have soared, with the city averaging 42 per year. There have been 44 so far in 2013, including one investigated by San Jose State police that SJPD does not count in its total.

Ferrante believes the majority of people who will take advantage of the gun buyback are legal owners who no longer want weapons in their homes. Guns owned and stored legally have the potential to be stolen during burglaries and later used on the streets in violent crimes, Ferrante said.

However, should a gang member looking to take a different path opt to turn in a gun, police will allow them to do so anonymously. Police will not arrest people who turn in stolen guns.

"We'll accept the weapons no questions asked," Ferrante said.

Ferrante said police will be checking serial numbers on the guns after the event is over and attempt to return any stolen weapons to the gun owners. All other firearms will be destroyed, Ferrante said.

The buyback is being hosted in partnership with several agencies, including the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. Johnny Gogo,¿ a deputy district attorney, emphasized the gun buyback is "a violence prevention effort, not an enforcement effort."

Funding for the buyback program is coming from several resources, including asset forfeiture funds from the San Jose Police Department and Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office. Other city leaders and community groups and faith-based organizations are donating money to the buyback.

Gogo believes about $60,000 in gift cards will be handed out at the buyback.

The buyback in San Jose is taking place in conjunction with efforts in other California cities, including Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. In 2010, firearms were used in 11,078 homicides in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although the buyback is targeting resident of San Jose, the campaign won't turn away people from other South Bay cities.

"That's one more weapon that may not find its way into San Jose in the hands of a criminal," Ferrante said.

To help raise funds for the Dec. 14 buyback, the partnership is working with GunByGun.org to host an online fundraiser. Anyone who wants to donate can visit www.GunByGun.org and find a link to donate to the San Jose event.

Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez.

Gun buyback
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 14
Where: Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 2012 E. San Antonio Ave.
What: Trade in a working handgun, rifle, shotgun in exchange for a $100 gift card or an assault rifle for a $200 gift card. Transport unloaded weapons in trunk of car. No walks-ups or ammo.
For more information, visit www.sjdistrict5.com or call 408-535-4947.