A steady stream of people showed up for a “Gas for Guns” event hosted by the BRAVE program and local law enforcement Saturday, turning over 74 handguns, rifles and shotguns in exchange for Circle K gas cards.
The no-questions-asked program is designed to get weapons off the streets that could be used to commit crimes. Law enforcement authorities collected the guns at Living Faith Christian Center on Winbourne Avenue.
At least two of the nine shotguns had illegally short, sawed-off barrels, and one of the 12 rifles was an AK-47 assault rifle, the weapon of choice for gang members and the kind of weapon officials were most concerned about collecting.
The remainder of the guns — the 53 handguns — were mostly old or cheap revolvers and semi-automatics, but several were expensive and collectible. If the guns can be matched to a crime, they will become evidence; if they were stolen, they will be returned to their owners, and the rest will be destroyed, officers said.
“I think it was a very successful event,” said Capt. Todd Morris, of the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office. “Anytime we can get guns off the street, they are less likely to be used in a crime of violence.”
No questions were asked of the dozens of residents who exchanged the guns for Circle K gas cards. Pistols smaller than .380-caliber were exchanged for $50 worth of fuel cards. Pistols larger than .380-caliber were worth $100, and the assault-style rifles were worth $300.
Authorities distributed $5,350 in Circle K gas cards in exchange for the guns that people turned in, according to BRAVE’s Facebook page.
“It was unbelievable. I really didn’t expect this number of people,” said District Attorney Hillar Moore III, as a line of vehicles snaked through the church’s parking lot.
Vehicles were already lined up when officials from the District Attorney’s Office, Mayor’s Office, and officers from the Sheriff’s Office and the Baton Rouge Police Department arrived around 9 a.m. to set up tables for the scheduled 10 a.m. opening, Moore said.
“For sure we have found stolen guns,” Moore said, in previous Gas for Guns events, “and I believe we have found one or two that have been involved in an offense.”
They collected 262 unsecured guns in 2010, 165 firearms in 2011 and 71 handguns, rifles and shotguns last December when the exchange was held for the third time, according to the Mayor’s Office.
Living Faith is located in the 70805 ZIP code, the epicenter of Baton Rouge’s criminal activity, and Moore said, “a lot of residents have told us they appreciate what we’re doing and they’ve seen big changes.”
Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Project director, said their goal was to collect what they call “unsecured” guns.
“We think the most important part is getting unsecured weapons off the street,” Anny said. “When they fall into the hands of young people who are not familiar with them, accidental discharges can come about.”
In fact, earlier this year a young man was accidentally killed by another teen who was playing with a gun in the vehicle they were riding in, Moore and Anny said.
As the vehicles entered the church’s front overhang, about a dozen officers collected the guns from residents or got them out of the trunk or pick-up bed.
They gingerly carried them to a row of tables manned by other officers from both agencies who ensured they were not loaded, examined them for serial numbers and gave the residents the appropriate number of Circle K cards.
Bill Morgan read about the event in The Advocate and turned in a small, old, .25-caliber Beretta handgun that belonged to another family member.
“I really didn’t trust it, and we wanted to get rid of it,” Morgan said. “I didn’t want somebody to get ahold of it.”
Shirley Perry turned in two small-caliber pistols that belonged to her deceased uncle “and I have no use for them,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful.”
Felte Borskey received a $50 card for a .38-caliber handgun that belonged to his deceased uncle and that his aunt wanted out of the house. “This is a very good idea,” he said.
A man who turned in the AK-47 and a sawed-off shotgun declined comment when asked by a reporter if he would talk about the guns he was turning in.
“No,” he replied, rolling up the tinted window of his pickup truck. Moments later, he collected his gas card and drove off.