The classic "guns versus butter" economic model morphed into "guns for butter," as the recession had folks in Compton turning out in record numbers this weekend to surrender their firearms in exchange for supermarket gift cards.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department ended its annual Gifts for Guns program on Sunday, allowing residents to anonymously relinquish their weapons in return for $100 gift cards for Ralph's supermarkets, Target department stores or Best Buy electronics stores. An assault rifle got you $200.
During the boom times, most people would opt for Target and Best Buy cards, to buy electronic goods and other presents for the holidays. Things are different now.
"The majority of the people want the food cards," said sheriff's Sgt. Byron Woods. "People just don't have the money to buy the food these days."
Families across Compton rummaged through closets and under their beds to produce 965 firearms, two hand grenades and a Soviet-era semiautomatic carbine over the two weekends.
That's more than in any other year and nearly triple last year's total of 387 guns. By the time sheriff's deputies finished totaling up guns collected on Saturday and Sunday they expected to have about 1,000.
"One guy said he had just got laid off from his job," Woods said. "He turned in five guns and said it would really help him to put food on the family's table."
Gun owners dropped their weapons off at a local grocery store parking lot, where a deputy pulled them from the trunks of cars — no questions asked. The weapons are tested to see if they have been used in crimes, then destroyed.
The annual drive started in 2005 after a spike in killings, though the murder rate has since dropped.
"It is so important to get these guns off the streets," Woods said. "You never know where (they) could have ended up."
"If that got into the wrong hands of gang bangers, they could kill several people within minutes," Woods said. "Our biggest fear is a house getting burglarized and these guns getting taken."
Most of the approximately $100,000 needed to pay for this year's gift cards comes from Los Angeles County. The three stores and the city of Compton, which contracts with the county Sheriff's Department for police protection, also donate funds.
Copyright AP - Associated Press