Police Net 279 Firearms With Buyback

Laura Lightstone, a firearms specialist, examines a shotgun turned in as part of a guns-for-cash program. The weapons are tested for links to crimes.
Laura Lightstone, a firearms specialist, examines a shotgun turned in as part of a guns-for-cash program. The weapons are tested for links to crimes. (Photos By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007

For $100 and the prospect of some cash in hand for Christmas shopping, Levaun Dicks marched into the basement of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington yesterday and handed a police officer a plastic bag containing a loaded 9mm Makarov semiautomatic pistol.

"It was lying in my dad's shed," said Dicks, 31, of Fort Washington, who was recently laid off from a real estate company. "It wasn't needed, and I need the money."

Dicks was among scores of Washington area residents to participate yesterday in the D.C. police department's gun amnesty program. Held at three churches -- officers had hoped the non-threatening setting would lure people who might be intimidated by having to head into a police station -- residents were offered $100 for assault-type rifles or semiautomatic pistols, $50 for revolvers, derringers, shotguns and rifles, and $10 for air, BB and pellet guns.

The buyback netted 279 firearms yesterday in return for $14,450.

The program takes place against a backdrop of gun violence in the city. As of Friday, the District had 176 homicides this year, compared with 169 for all of 2006. Robberies and assaults with guns are also up in many neighborhoods.

D.C. police have recovered more than 10,000 guns in the past five years in the city, despite having one of the strictest gun laws in the country. The District's law essentially bans private handgun ownership and requires that rifles and shotguns kept in private homes be unloaded and disassembled or outfitted with a trigger lock. The law, which is being challenged by advocates who say it violates Second Amendment rights, will be reviewed next year by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Police have held other guns-for-cash exchanges in recent years, including one at three police stations in September 2006 that netted 337 firearms in return for $16,700. This year, said police Cmdr. Joel Maupin, the District allocated $100,000 for the buyback.

At Shiloh Baptist Church in Northwest, 81 guns cluttered the bottoms of three giant cardboard boxes by midday, as a middle-aged man with a semiautomatic wrapped in plastic walked up to policemen on watch outside the church.

In the basement of Union Temple Baptist Church, behind panels decorated with children's crayoned drawings of candy canes and cotton-wool snowscapes, police officers mingled near a table covered with more than 30 firearms, from palm-size semiautomatics and revolvers with dainty pearl-handle grips to shotguns and hunting rifles.

As in the past, police took the guns with no questions asked. They planned to test-fire them and gather ballistics evidence. Investigators will determine whether the guns can be linked to any crimes. Guns that have been cleared will be destroyed.

"We don't really expect people involved in criminal activity" to hand in their weapons, said Maupin, who heads the 7th Police District in Southeast. "But every weapon we get is one less that could be used against an owner or anyone in the street. It's important to get any weapon off the street."

Maupin said the majority of buybacks were from citizens who had little use for their firearms.

"I was holding onto it for sentimental reasons," said Charlotte McGutherie, 59, of the pearl-handled, .30-caliber, five-shot revolver that had fallen into her possession when her mother died in 1985. For years it had lain stashed away in a basement filing cabinet.

Ernest Austin, 53, of Silver Spring said he bought his Davis .380 semiautomatic -- small enough for slipping into a breast pocket -- 10 years ago for $100 for home protection. He'd never had to use it, he said, and kept it locked away in a closet. But in recent years, he grew concerned that his two children, 15 and 12, might get their hands on it.

Handing over a 12-gauge shotgun and a shopping bag bulging with ammunition, Wanda Brooks, 56, of Oxon Hill also said she felt uncomfortable having a weapon hidden in a closet within reach of seven roaming grandchildren. The gun had belonged to her partner, who used it to hunt before he died last year.

A police officer handed her a $50 bill. She looked at it a moment and, with a smile, said, "I'm going to buy a Christmas tree."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company