Weapons buy-back a relative success

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 August, 1999, 12:00am

Rarely have relatives sounded so threatening.

Long-lost brothers-in-law or dead aunts seemed to be conveniently common sources of all manner of weapons handed over to Washington DC police this week in a bizarre spectacle dubbed the 'Great Buy-back of 1999'.

By Wednesday, police had paid out more than US$230,000 (HK$1.8 million) in seized drug money for more than 2,300 unwanted weapons in a limited public amnesty, at times running out of cash.

The public - often retirees desperately seeking funds - queued for up to four hours at police stations across Washington, bringing their booty in old briefcases and paper bags to claim US$100 per weapon.

There were old busted skeet shooters, vintage Luger pistols and the odd hand-held 9mm automatic 'Saturday Special' - a weapon for which there is little social or sporting justification. Likewise with the sawn-off, pump-action shotgun with the pistol grip, complete with a semi-literate threat scratched on the housing.

'I don't really know much about it, other than it's been kicking around the family for years,' said retired accountant Dick Havers as he handed over a well-used rifle.

'It came from some old uncle or someone. You really don't want it around the house.' The weapons will be tested and checked with records in a bid to solve outstanding crimes before being melted down. Police believe they will know the histories of individual weapons within 90 days.

Despite the prospect of investigations, the event proved far more successful than previous amnesties, reflecting new concern following a spate of recent mass shootings.

'Block by block, gun by gun, citizens are taking back our streets,' Mayor Anthony Williams declared. Criminologists, however, are not sure.

Few analysts expect a wholesale change to the crime rate, though they believe individual houses will be safer.

Florida State University estimated the haul would account for just 1.6 per cent of the gun stock in Washington, which has one of the highest murder rates in the world.