Clearing the guns from the streets of LA: 'It's time to change. We must get these guns off the street'

When the mayor of LA held a weapons amnesty after the massacre at Sandy Hook, people were queueing round the block
  • @timwalker

At nine o'clock on the morning after Christmas, Kwame Baker was queuing outside the Memorial Sports Arena in South Los Angeles, waiting to hand over his shotgun to the Los Angeles Police Department. "I was given it, and I never use it. I don't even know how to," said Mr Baker, a 52-year-old driver. Troubled by the recent killings in Connecticut, and by gun violence closer to home, he told The Independent: "I felt it was time. We need to get these guns off the streets."

Since the shootings at Sandy Hook on 14 December, which left 20 children and seven adults dead, people across the US have been keen to do their part to prevent another similar tragedy. Last week Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, announced that the city's gun amnesty, normally held in May, would be brought forward to Boxing Day to capitalise on the national mood.

Gun-owners were guaranteed anonymity at the drive-thru-style event, with no questions asked about the provenance of their firearms. As an incentive, those who surrendered a shotgun, handgun or rifle received supermarket vouchers worth $100 (£60); for an assault weapon, the incentive was $200. By the afternoon, the buy-back had yielded more than the 1,673 guns collected last year, and officials had handed out $130,000 in vouchers. All day, a line of cars snaked out of the stadium entrance, along Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and around the block.

One of the first firearms surrendered was a Bushmaster AR-15, the make used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown shootings. Kenny Chan, 31, a construction estimator, brought a handgun belonging to his brother-in-law. "He had it for home defence," said Mr Chan, "but he has a five-month-old now and, in the wake of what's happened, it's not good to have guns lying around."

Tim Harper and his wife Kathy drove from Fullerton in Orange County to hand in four assault rifles belonging to Tim's stepfather, who has Alzheimer's. The weapons are illegal to own in California. "I didn't want them to end up in the wrong hands," said Mr Harper.

The LAPD has rounded up more than 8,000 firearms at similar events since the programme began in 2009. The weapons are later melted down. Sceptics suggest the guns surrendered are unlikely to be the type used for crime. But Joe Buscaino, an LA councillor and reserve police officer, said: "As a police officer, I've been to numerous crime scenes where people have been killed with assault weapons. We're saving lives here today."

The city's violent-crime rate has been falling for a decade. Since 2009, the LAPD has recorded a 39 per cent drop in gang crime, and a 22 per cent drop in calls reporting shots being fired. Speaking at the event, Mayor Villaraigosa declared his support for the federal assault weapons ban mooted by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. "Cities and states must join with the federal government to do everything we can, as quickly as we can, to keep our communities safe," he said.

Not all Americans agree, however. A Gallup poll published yesterday found a record 74 per cent now support the right to own a handgun. Even in liberal LA, the amnesty met opposition. According to the press agency AFP, a poster displayed near a second buy-back location in Van Nuys read: "Get $$ for your gun… We buy your gun to donate it to a woman in danger. An armed woman will not be a victim."