To the surprise and delight of Santa Barbara police and the Coalition Against Gun Violence, this weekend's anonymous gun buyback at the Earl Warren Showgrounds was declared an unmitigated success. A total of 239 firearms were exchanged for $20,000 in Vons gift cards (and a few thousand more in cash), including 108 handguns, 84 rifles, 41 shotguns, and 6 assault weapons. There were no protesters or unruly participants, and the energetic response has inspired talk of another buyback.
“It was exciting for everyone involved,” said Coalition leader Toni Wellen, remarking that the event was a chance to show how well the police work with her group and how the law enforcement agency takes efforts to prevent crime, not just respond to it. “They're super great guys and gals,” she said. Also in attendance on Saturday were Congressmember Lois Capps, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, and Mayor Helene Schneider. Capps suggested to Wellen that the Coalition expand to North County and organize a buyback there.
The majority of participants filled out anonymous surveys after they exchanged their guns, Wellen said, and the results will be tabulated this week. “We gave them a gift card and a cookie and they sweetly went on their way,” she explained, noting some people either declined to take the gift cards or donated the money back to the Coalition. Wellen said that two TEC-9s were turned in, which she said police were happy about as the weapons are especially dangerous and easy to conceal.
Responding to criticisms that buybacks don't take guns out of the hands of criminals, that participants are typically law-abiding citizens who don't pose a danger to the community, Wellen said it's impossible to tell which guns may have be used for nefarious reasons or in tragic accidents. “A gun could have been used in a homicide or a suicide at the home,” she said, “or it could have been used in an accidental death. There were people [at the buyback] removing guns for exactly those reasons. They were legal gun owners, but some of them wanted to remove the guns as a preventative measure.”
Wellen also said she was pleased with the media coverage the event received. “We are very grateful to the media because the issue of gun violence needs to be in the conversation, and it's the media that promotes and discusses the subject. It's very important, and I'm thankful for that and appreciate it.” The firearms will be transported to Los Angeles for destruction at a later date, she said. Before the event, Wellen said last week that if they collected close to 100 guns, it'd be considered a "big win."
Sgt. Riley Harwood, spokesperson for the Santa Barbara Police Department, concurred that the buyback went off without any major hitches. “It went smoother than expected, and we had a bigger turnout than expected,” he explained. Even before the 8 a.m. start time, there were around 20 cars lined up at the showgrounds parking lot, he said. Many people turned in single guns, but a large amount also brought three or four firearms, he went on. All of the weapons were checked to determine if they had been lost or stolen. Participants, who were mainly in their 50s or 60s, often explained they were giving up guns they inherited or had been left behind by a deceased spouse.
The police collected everything from a homemade “zip gun” to a high-end Deringer to an unfired Smith & Wesson Model 25 in its original collectors box. They also received a black powder rifle, a German Mauser M98 bolt-action rifle with Nazi markings, and a WWII-era Colt .45. Harwood said at one point on Saturday, two men participating in the spa and swimming pool expo taking place at the showgrounds at the same time demanded to see the collected guns. The police denied the request, and the men faulted them for “destroying history.”