More than 1,110 shotguns, rifles, pistols, revolvers, handguns, assault automatic and semiautomatic weapons were turned over to sheriff's authorities for between $100 and $200 during Saturday's Santa Clara County gun buyback event at the fairgrounds in San Jose.
A long line of cars began forming as early as 5 a.m. on Umbarger Road to enter the fairgrounds and turn in the firearms to volunteers who manned six stations and assisted each driver with the anonymous transaction.
They were greeted at the gate, however, by protesters from the Golden State Second Amendment Council and the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association who complained the $160,000 used by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors to hold the program was a waste of taxpayers' dollars.
"This is a monumental waste of taxpayers' money," said Mark W.A. Hinkle, one of the protesters holding a picket sign that said, "Legal gun sales through gun shops pay much more."
Hinkle said the event was also counterproductive to a safe and peaceful society "because when people are allowed to protect themselves, we have less crime, less murders, less rapes, less burglaries."
Cities with heavy gun control legislation have the highest violent crime rates in the country, Hinkle added. Other picketers said the program was a way for criminals to get rid of evidence and get paid for it.
Vince Moudry complained that there are too many government intrusions on gun ownership. "This is not the country I grew up in," he said. "It's all gun control now, control of the people. They're taking our guns away and these guns don't need to be turned in. They can be resold to a dealer and the owners can make a lot more money for them."
Program supporters such as Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith and County Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager, who were present during the event, said in 2012, the Medical Examiner-Coroner reported that firearms were the cause of nearly two in every three homicides in the county. Firearms were involved in 79 deaths in the county in 2012, including 36 homicides and 41 suicides.
Santa Clara County Sheriff Sgt. Nellie Davis explained only drivers in vehicles could turn in guns for cash and that no individuals on foot were being allowed to walk in to the fairgrounds with weapons, the entrance beefed up with extra security.
The line of cars moved slowly on the dirt grounds. Some drivers waited more than two hours to finally make it inside the fairgrounds' promenade area where six stations had been set up to take the weapons.
"No questions asked ... they just drive up to the station, the weapons are taken from the trunk of their vehicles and they get their money. We want to remove guns from the community," Davis explained. "We want to reduce gun violence. This helps to reduce the number of firearms on the streets."
Most gun owners declined to be interviewed by media covering the event. One man, Troy Elder, 37, of San Jose, said he was selling a 22-gage shotgun that had been used by a family member to commit suicide.
"We wanted the weapon destroyed," Elder said. "Our other option was to take it to the San Jose Police Department and they told us about this program."
Los Gatos Vice Mayor Steven Leonardis and other West Valley government leaders such as Saratoga Councilman Howard Miller were on hand to learn more about the program and the increasingly divisive and emotional gun-control issue.
"I wanted to see it [the program] first-hand," Leonardis said. "I want to become more knowledgeable about the whole gun issue."
One of the firearms turned in was a sawed off shot gun, which a volunteer said had became illegal in 1934.
Los Gatos resident and volunteer Jess B. Guy, an attorney with the Santa Clara County Office of the Alternate Defender, said a number of illegal weapons had been turned in during the event. "That's good for the county," he noted.
Santa Clara County Supervising Deputy District Attorney Christopher J. Arriola said his agency wants to make sure unwanted guns are taken off the streets and destroyed responsibly. The DA's office pitched in $10,000 toward the program, while the county supervisors pitched in $150,000, making the largest cash-funded gun buyback in county history.
"We've seen a lot of incidents and tragedies, but most recently here at home in Santa Cruz we saw two officers killed by somebody who should not have had that gun," Arriola said. "Getting these guns off the streets protects our police officers, our community and keeps the county safe."