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Clearwater and Largo police collect 324 guns in Gifts for Guns initiative

Rifles, handguns, shotguns and even assault weapons were dropped off in the no-questions-asked exchange for gift cards.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Rifles, handguns, shotguns and even assault weapons were dropped off in the no-questions-asked exchange for gift cards.

CLEARWATER — In just six hours Friday, police in Clearwater and Largo collected 324 guns in their first-ever Gifts for Guns buyback initiative.

That means 324 guns that won't ever be used in a robbery or a homicide or an accidental shooting, police said.

Instead, they'll be incinerated.

"There were a lot of older guns that people had, and the common theme was that a loved one had passed away and it had been sitting around and they didn't know what to do with it," said Largo police Lt. Mike Loux.

Police collected handguns, rifles and shotguns, including one shotgun that appeared to be from the 19th century, said Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts.

The program, which allowed people to trade their guns for gift cards ranging from $50 to $100, was the first initiative of Clearwater Deputy Police Chief Sandra Wilson, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement veteran who started with Clearwater in December.

"We'd like to thank the community for coming out and supporting our new crime-prevention initiative. We collected over 300 guns today, including two assault weapons," Wilson said. "We see this as a success that will potentially make the community safer."

Clearwater police at two dropoff locations collected 190 guns. Largo police took in another 134. One stolen gun was recovered and two assault rifles were turned in, Watts said. The event came with a "no questions asked" policy to encourage people to hand over the weapons, regardless of their history.

Officials with both departments were impressed by the turnout and are considering holding another gun buyback day in the future.

Even guns owned by law-abiding citizens can be stolen and end up in the hands of people with criminal intentions, police officials said.

Loux said his agency gave out about $6,500 in gift cards. The money came from forfeiture funds.

"The majority of the money we spent to keep the streets safe was … seized from drug dealers and people committing crimes," Loux said. "So, we're actually using money we got from the bad guys to protect the community from the bad guys."

Clearwater and Largo police collect 324 guns in Gifts for Guns initiative 06/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 10, 2011 7:58pm]
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