Bob Seligman of San Diego is a retired 22-year veteran of the U.S. Navy. He believes that guns can be dangerous but only in the wrong hands. He’s willing to admit that he’s not sure what the solution is to gun violence in America.
Still, like hundreds of other San Diego County residents, he lined up on a clear, bright Friday morning to hand his weapons over to San Diego County Sheriff’s officials.
Seligman could be the poster boy for record-setting gun buybacks that have sprung up across the country since the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The rifle and 20-gauge shotgun he turned in Friday morning had been in his collection for years. He wasn’t using them anymore and he didn’t plan to. If he was going to get something out of it – those who forfeited weapons received gifts cards – why not turn them in?
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department sees dozens of people like Seligman each year during its annual gun buyback. This year, they came with a total of more than 360 hunting rifles, shotguns, antique weapons they’d forgotten they had, and in some cases, automatic weapons like the two Uzi-style handguns and TEC-9 that were turned in Friday before 10 a.m.
In the five years since its inception, the event has netted hundreds of guns – last year, the final collection count reached 301– that are catalogued, checked against a list of stolen weapons and then destroyed.
The string of buyback stories gets longer nearly every day: Bridgeport, Connecticut, officials have set aside $100,000 for their program; Camden, New Jersey, residents turned in more than 1,100 weapons last weekend and Congressmen Gerry Connolly of Virginia and Ted Deutch of Florida have launched an effort to add a $200 million federal buyback program to a final fiscal cliff deal.
The Los Angeles Police Department moved its annual gun buyback up by nearly six months in response to the Newtown shooting.
In Oakland and San Francisco, officials collected nearly 600 weapons the day after the killings, making the event the most successful in those cities to date.
In San Diego, officials are working on adding multiple buyback sites to its own program. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis guaranteed that within the next six months, residents throughout the county will have more than one place to turn in their weapons.
The move to expand will be the first in the five-year history of the program, which has traditionally set up shop in Southeast San Diego, an area historically plagued by gang and gun violence.
To San Diego City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, that makes this the perfect time for gun owners to ask themselves whether their weapons are necessary.
"Something in the course of the last year has reminded them that maybe they don’t need weapons in the house," Emerald says of the residents who started lining up at 6:30 a.m. to turn in their guns. "Do we need them? Do we use them? If you don’t have a good reason … take them out, put them in the car and bring them down here."
Both images: San Diego law enforcement officials collect weapons during a gun buyback December 21, 2012. (Sam Hodgson/Reuters)