How long does it take one police department to purchase $11,000 in used guns? About three hours.
Officers with the Lodi Police Department transformed a Church Street parking lot into a drive through gun sales depot early Saturday morning for the first-ever Gun Buy Back in Lodi.
“The line was three blocks long before we opened,” said Lt. Fernando Martinez at 9 a.m. “I think we’re going to go through that money easily.”
A line of cars wound around the Fire Station 1 and City Hall parking lots, guided by Lodi Police Partners and cadets.
“It got the community’s attention. Soon as the gates opened, the parking lot started filling,” said Police Chief Mark Helms. “This buyback is $20,000 to get guns off the street.”
The money came from a California Gang Reduction, Intervention and Prevention grant.
The last four homicides in Lodi were committed by gang members using stolen guns, said Helms. Those guns are often taken during burglaries when guns are not properly locked up.
“It’s another example of how the chief and the department are thinking outside of the box,” said Councilman Bob Johnson, who stopped by with coffee in hand to check out the event.
Sellers remained in their cars for the entire transaction, with the gun and any ammunition locked in the trunk. No personal information was recorded, but officers did check that each seller lived in the Lodi area.
Officers removed the guns from each car and passed them to the Lodi Police Range Masters, the department’s gun experts. The masters checked that each gun wasn’t reported lost or stolen, and determined whether the firearm was functional. Inoperative guns went for $25, while working handguns, shotguns and rifles went for $100. Working assault weapons went for $200.
Sellers were paid cash. Each gun was loaded into a cart then hauled away for destruction. Guns are cut in half then melted down.
Just under 60 cars lined up to turn in 117 guns. At least five people waited to turn in just ammunition, though more was turned in with gun sales.
A few interesting firearms were turned in. One was a .38 caliber Colt Police Positive, manufactured in the early 1900’s. The police department plans to track down the agency the gun was originally issued to before destroying it, said Brucia.
A Chinese-made A-K 47 assault rifle, TEC-9 and TEC-22 semi-automatic handguns and an Armsel Striker assault shotgun that is more commonly known as a street sweeper were also among the pile slated for destruction.
Don Armstrong waited in line in a pickup truck to turn in a 40 year old pistol.
“It doesn’t work well, and it’s dangerous. I want to get rid of it,” he said.
Paul Emerson waited patiently, but he had no firearms in his car.
“I’ve just got some ammunition, some shells. I want to get rid of it,” he said. Officers accepted ammunition at the event, but paid no money for it.
John, who declined to give his last name, turned in a handgun.
“I live in a bad neighborhood, and I’m afraid I’d have to use it at some point, then I’d be in trouble,” he said.
Bob Hoffman was turning in an old .22 rifle of his father’s.
“My dad passed a few years ago, and the gun was handed down to me. It’s just been sitting under the bed,” he said. “I don’t own any others.”
On the corner of Pine and Pleasant, a man with a cowboy hat and a white mustache stood holding a sign that read “Buying Guns to Protect My Family.”
“I’m trying to pick up some firearms for self-protection,” said Gary Fraley, a bankruptcy attorney from Sacramento. “People are getting pretty desperate out there.”
Before entering the line up for the police buy back, each seller drove past this sign, and a few stopped to talk with the man and sell him their guns.
Fraley said he had permission from the police to hold his sign and ask people to sell their guns to him instead.
“We don’t need to be adversaries,” he said. “They can buy more guns with their money if some people sell to me. It gets more guns out of people’s hands.”
Another private buyer, who gave his name as Jeff, said he was there to prevent antique guns from being destroyed.
“Most people are probably bringing junk, but if there’s anything good, I want to save it,” he said.
The masters checking the guns also looked for antique guns or firearms with historical value, and gave the seller the option to keep it.
“We don’t want to take those priceless guns from people,” said Helms.
The rush slowed down at 11 a.m. to one car every fifteen minutes or so, according to Sgt. Sierra Brucia.
“We did pretty well getting some assault rifles off the streets,” said Brucia. The rest of the money will be held until 2014 for another buyback event.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.