An immensely popular guns-for-cash exchange program was up and running yesterday at the 6th District police station in Northeast Washington, one day after it ran out of money and had to turn away residents who brought illegal guns.
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, on hand to witness the final day of the five-day program, declared it such a success that he announced the launching of a District-wide program Aug. 23 with a goal of buying back 1,000 guns. Under the program, police pay $100 cash per operable handgun, no questions asked. They paid for rifles and shotguns only on the first day of the program this week but continued to collect them.
"I'm ecstatic. Any time you get guns off the streets, several people's lives have been saved," Ramsey said outside the police station on Benning Road NE.
The program netted about 600 handguns, rifles and shotguns, about 250 of them yesterday, police said.
There are tens of thousands of legal and illegal firearms in the District, a police spokesman said. Last year, District police confiscated 2,500 guns, many from criminals.
The program hit a major glitch Thursday when the inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, an arm independent of HUD, failed to get the money out of an account in time. Dozens of residents holding guns, many wrapped in plastic bags, waited for hours but were turned away. They walked off with the guns.
But late yesterday morning, officials from the inspector general's office arrived with a brown leather suitcase containing $10,000 in $100 bills, much to the delight of D.C. officer Andre Wright, who created the five-day program.
"I was very happy and excited," he said.
To play it safe, the police department also made another $10,000 available, with the expectation of being reimbursed by HUD. HUD committed $30,000 to the program, while the department doled out more than $21,000. The department ran out of money at the end of the day yesterday and gave vouchers totaling $3,200 to eight people.
In a statement released last night through his press secretary, Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he wanted "to thank HUD and Secretary Andrew Cuomo, in particular, for their quick response to the problem with the District's gun-buyback program. This program is helping to make the streets of the District safer."
Dozens of people were already in line yesterday morning, even though the start-up time had changed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. But instead of turning them away, police bought guns from them before closing the doors until the afternoon.
Some people who stood in line yesterday afternoon had been turned away the day before. About 10 people also were turned away Wednesday night, about 90 minutes before the scheduled closing, after the day's funds ran out. Most took it in stride.
Among those was a woman named Lisa, 24, who came on both Wednesday and Thursday, only to walk away with a friend's gun she was turning in.
"I was a little upset," she said, holding bottled water in the sweltering heat.
Officials for the inspector general explained the glitch, saying that they committed $25,000 extra for the program late Tuesday after realizing its immense success but simply weren't able to transfer the money out of an account in time.
The biggest haul yesterday came from a gun collector who brought in 40 weapons, of which 22 were operable. The second-biggest collection came from a couple who said they were engaged to be married later this month. They had 17 guns.
"This is our honeymoon money," said the woman, who identified herself only as Linda, 45. Her fiance, James, 46, said he collected guns and wanted to get rid of them. It is illegal to own handguns in the District unless they were purchased before 1976.
"They were collected over the years. I'm almost a gun enthusiast. I have too many," he said. Then he sheepishly conceded: "I still have more."
CAPTION: Firearms examiner Torin Suber, left, checks a gun for ammunition during the cash-for-guns program.