The hundreds of weapons collected at Saturday’s gun buyback has prompted city leaders to plan for a second event — and next time try to avoid the long lines, traffic jams and open-air gun purchases by private dealers outside the venue.
“We were surprised at the overwhelming response,” Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz said Monday.
He said police researched gun buybacks in other cities, including a recent one in Los Angeles, and estimated that about 100 weapons would be turned in per hour.
Instead, Seattle police collected 716 guns in about three hours, Metz said, swamping the staff collecting them. Police handed out all $68,000 in gift cards they had available in exchange for the weapons.
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Aaron Pickus, a spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn, said the city was aware that private gun dealers and collectors might crash the gun buyback, which was held in a parking lot underneath Interstate 5 downtown.
But city leaders said they didn’t think they had the authority to shut down the transactions because third-party gun sales are legal in Washington.
Similar private sales occurred last year outside gun buybacks in Detroit and Cleveland.
Mayor Mike McGinn said the “gun bazaar” underlined the need for state and federal laws requiring universal background checks on gun sales.
Despite the private buyers, Metz said most donors were willing to stand in lines up to two hours in order to ensure their guns would be taken out of circulation. All the guns collected were working and potentially deadly, he said.
Gun owners received a gift card worth $100 for each handgun, rifle or shotgun, and $200 for each assault weapon.
About $118,000 in donations were raised from private donors for the event. McGinn said not all of the donations had come in time for Saturday’s buyback and police wanted money left in reserve for another event.
“We would love to do this again,” he said, calling on potential donors to contribute additional money.
Police collected four guns confirmed as stolen, dozens that would be considered assault-style weapons and three semi-automatic shotguns known as “street-sweepers.”
During the buyback, Metz saw a spent missile launcher being purchased by a private dealer. Metz seized the tube and said they are not typically legal for civilian possession.
Police are checking with Joint Base Lewis McChord to see if it might have been stolen.
A December gun buyback in Los Angeles netted more than 2,000 weapons at two different locations. The last Seattle gun buyback, in 1992, collected more than 1,200 guns over a four-day period.
Both the King County Sheriff’s Office and Seattle police will collect unwanted guns anytime but won’t pay for them. People can call 911 for the sheriff or, for the city, the police nonemergency number, 206-625-5011.
Police advise residents to follow instructions given by operators and not to answer the door carrying a gun.
Critics complained in advance of the gun buyback that studies have shown that it doesn’t reduce crime or gun violence.
County Executive Dow Constantine defended the event and said homes in the region are safer because hundreds of unwanted guns are no longer available for use.
He said no one can know if one might have been wielded in an argument between brothers or taken by an angry teenager to school.
“It is true that we as local governments do not have the authority to require background checks, or safe storage, or prohibit assault weapons. That should not stop us from doing those things we can do,” Constantine said.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305.