More than 300 Augustans did their part Saturday to curb the violence that injures or kills about 600 people weekly in the United States.
The third gun buyback of the summer, held at the sheriff's substation at Southgate Shopping Center, ended four hours early because law enforcement officers ran out of gift certificates allocated for people turning in their guns.
Each weapon submitted, operational or not, was exchanged for a $50 Wal-Mart gift certificate.
Richmond County received $14,300 in federal funding for the program.
The first two buybacks brought a large group ofolder Augustans, who turned in the 163 weapons.
Their concern is children getting hold of the guns, Sheriff Charlie Webster said.
Residents showed up with 83 revolvers, 37 semiautomatic handguns, 20 rifles and 19 shotguns in the first two collections.
"These elderly people bringing them in, ... that touched me more than anything else," the sheriff said.
In September, President Clinton announced the start of a $15 million Housing and Urban Development grant for a violence-prevention initiative that would allow law enforcement agencies nationwide to buy 300,000 weapons.
About 86 cities participated, and as of Friday, about 16,500 had been collected, said Sandi Abadinsky, spokeswoman for Housing and Urban Development in Washington. She said 15 cities had not reported their figures because their programs were not completed.
"We are very pleased with the results so far from all of the communities," she said. Some law enforcement agencies showed more enthusiasm about the program than what was expected initially.
"In San Francisco, police officers went to ATM machines and took money from their personal accounts when they ran out of money because they didn't want to turn anyone away," she said.
Sheriff Webster said he hopes the program lets residents know law enforcement officers are as interested as they are in getting weapons off the streets.
"We may be getting a better relationship with the people in the neighborhoods where the guns are predominant," he said. "They know that we will work with them any way we can to try to get the guns off the street."
Critics of the program say it will never reach criminals with more expensive artillery.
"We are not getting good guns in a situation like this here," Sheriff Webster said, "because a man is not going to bring a good pistol or a good rifle or a good shotgun in because it's worth a lot more than $50. So all we're going to be getting mostly is junk, and a lot of it is dangerous enough that a person could get killed."
Harden Oldfield, director of resident services at HUD in Augusta, said such programs effectively reduce crime in the area when they are coupled with other violence- and drug-elimination programs, such as summer camps, art programs and those that are a part of the local Boys & Girls Clubs. Other buyback dates in Augusta will be set if the turnout shows there are many more residents out there with weapons to turn in.
"I wouldn't give $50 for half of them," Capt. Gary Powell of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department said of the weapons. "We don't look at the value of the gun; we look at the value of a life."
Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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